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Is Employee Engagement a Threat or a Thread?

Are we creating iatrogenic disengagement?

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Employee engagement may threaten the established ways of working when we fully engage employees and stop stifling  voice, identity, and innovation. I believe the fresher ways of working produce both fear and threat for many leaders and managers. I think conducting anonymous surveys suggest that engagement is seen as a threat in the organization. I have always believed that disengagement should not be a punishable offense but rather a trigger for a conversation about work. How can it trigger a conversation if we don’t know who is saying what?  If leaders and managers really don’t know who is saying what and have to rely on a survey to get some aggregate data I think they need to be more engaged with employees.

It seems to me engagement must be threatening if the only way we believe employees will tell us the truth is if we make their responses anonymous – – – yet being anonymous inside an organization is certainly one of the contributors to feeling disengaged from the organization.  In medicine this is termed iatrogenesis – the illness is caused by the treatment. I think in many circumstance, our anonymous surveys are causing iatrogenic disengagement.

Engagement can be a thread that sews work, management, and leadership together. It changes how we work as we operate more from invitation, connection, conversation, trust, value-congruence, etc. So let’s take the thread of engagement and use it to stitch together the open wounds of threat in our organizations and work together so work will work for everyone. If we do this, I sincerely believe work can be healing and make us well.

David Zinger is an employee engagement speaker and expert who firmly believe that for work to be sustainable it must make us well.


  1. Hello David,

    For 80% to 90% of managers employee engagement is a huge threat. If we want to significantly improve our chances of creating an engaged workforce we need to stop hiring managers who find employee engagement a huge threat. We need to stop focusing our efforts on employees and start working on getting executives and managers to do their jobs well all of the time.

    Also, it its not a thread since it is the end result of executives, managers, and supervisors doing all things well; it is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of management job success.

    It is far easier for executives and managers to focus on their employees than themselves.

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful comment Bob.

  3. i agree with the premise that engagement can be a threat to organizations. The question(s) for me is why? Why should it be viewed as a threat? Is it misunderstanding what engagement is? Is it a threat to management because top executives will find out that a particular manager or division is not performing as well as they have self reported? or is it because those most affected by engagement, have no one to turn to when they are feeling threatened and no one is willing to help relieve them of their uncertain, threatening, or fear producing feelings?

  4. Dale: I think we could answer yes to all the questions and the brain is wire to respond to any change as a threat just to survive. I think it asks for more than just a bit of icing or make up to have the engagement change occur. All the best with all your work Dale. David

  5. It is very difficult to keep the engagement anonymous inside an organization. Employees know that if they speak truth then their comments can go against them. People at higher designation should be professional enough to listen the truth without any grudges and biased opinions.

  6. Elina:
    I agree with you and think it is a sad state of affairs in trying to work together and doing good work. Thanks for you comment.

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