From the BlogSubscribe Now

Employee Engagement: 23 Things to Avoid That Cause Iatrogenic Disengagement

Are you and your organization creating the very disengagement you are trying to solve?

Wellbeing Symbol Flipped

In medicine there is a term call iatrogenic illness, define as of or relating to illness caused by medical examination or treatment. A common example is to go to the hospital for a procedure and end up with an infection. We don’t want to infect our employees with disengagement but many things we do may unknowingly or unintentionally be creating the very problem we are trying to solve.

Here is a list of 23 sources of disengagement caused by our efforts to engage:

  1. Taking away personal responsibility for engagement when we state that managers, leaders, or organizations are responsible for engagement.
  2. Using anonymous surveys unintentionally tells employees we don’t want to know who they are.
  3. Asking for comments on a survey and never ensuring that employees know that their comments were read and respected.
  4. Stopping our employee engagement work because we don’t like the lack of results we have received.
  5. Asking questions on an engagement survey that we lack the wherewithal to address.
  6. Taking far too much time between when we survey employees and when we release the data and sometimes never releasing the data. Engagement measure should be more like good toasters. You insert the data and have it pop up in no time.
  7. When employee engagement is talked about as something extra or a thing.
  8. Creating high levels of frustration when we foster motivation but fail to give employees the proper tools to do the job.
  9. When engagement is used as a new word for motivation and we fail to look deeper.
  10. Telling employees that we expect rather than encourage them to have a best friend at work.
  11. Having employee engagement as a mere program or event and expecting sustainable improvement.
  12. When we fail to ask employees directly what can be done to improve engagement.
  13. When we fail to ask employees to write some of the engagement survey questions.
  14. When we fail to believe in our employees.
  15. When disengagement is treated as a punishable offence rather than a trigger for a conversation.
  16. When we fail to address progress and setback as a key engagement issue.
  17. When our work becomes creepy.
  18. Failing to end something before we begin something.
  19. When we resort to hype and hyperbole about being a great place to work.
  20. Paying lots of money to be a great place to work and get the badge but there is a lack of substance behind the badge or credential.
  21. Believing that everyone should find the same sense of meaning from their work.
  22. Failure to make use of the inherent engagement in smart phones and tablets.
  23. Failure to move from surveys to just in time bio-measures of engagement.

What sources of iatrogenic disengagement are you seeing?

David Zinger is an employee engagement speaker and expert who founded the 6300 member global Employee Engagement Network.


  1. Hi David!

    Saw this over on LinkedIn, had to comment here too…

    Not surprising it looks like as least 1/3 of the 23 are survey-rooted!

    One that really stood out at first pass (the list will get more and more careful looks!) is #9–When engagement is used as a new word for motivation and we fail to look deeper. I’ve referred to engagement as “the new motivation” without thinking. Too true-it’s much more. It’s work systems, leadership style, culture-shifting and more.

    It’s definitely not (11) “a mere program or event”!

    What I really want to hear more about is…(17) “When our work becomes creepy.” David, please–I must know what’s on your mind with this one!

  2. Good post David.

    A thought on point #2 on Anonymous Surveys is valid but there is an effect of the prevalent state of engagement. If an organization is starting off on employee engagement or is trying to overcome a trust deficit issue, then maybe anonymous surveys do serve an useful purpose of bringing out hard facts and opinions which might not be stated otherwise.

    Once the organization demonstrates its intent by acting on insights from surveys, moving to a named survey does help convey a strong signal of trust and mutual respect.

  3. Well said Prashant.

  4. Hi Craig:
    I am in summer slow down mode. Sorry it took a long time to approve and reply. Creepy to mean means doing something without really believing in. Being inauthentic. Doing something only for instrumental reasons (ie. recognize someone not because you value them but because you think it will increase sales or improve safety). Creepy is not owning what you are doing and taking a course and just “techniquing” the people you work with. Creepy is manipulative, shallow, insincere. We almost all know creepy the moment we see it because we have a build in shock proof crap detector. How is that for a short response?

Engage with a comment...