Three Myths About Employee Engagement

April 5, 2016 by

employee engagement mythsAt many of the conferences where I am a keynote speaker, I have encountered several large myths and inaccuracies purported and communicated about Employee Engagement. It is sad to me that managers and executives may be taking errant action plan steps based upon these inaccuracies and mistruths. Hence, the purpose of this blog is to correct these myths and share the truth.


Myth #1: 70% of Workers are Disengaged.

Not true.

For some reason, over the last year numerous articles are citing that 70% of workers are disengaged, according to Gallup, which is wholly inaccurate. The origin of this inaccuracy comes from people lumping the people in the middle category of engagement (Not Engaged and Not Disengaged) with the people in the Actively Disengaged category, despite the fact that people in those two categories have distinctly different traits, work ethics, and behaviors. The most recent 2016 Engagement Data, reported on Gallup’s website is 32% Engaged, 51% Not Engaged or Disengaged (or what I call “Ambivalent” in my book Building a Magnetic Culture), and 17% Actively Disengaged.1


Myth #2: Consultants and Engagement Survey providers are unfairly and wrongly placing labels on employees such as “Actively Disengaged.”

A falsehood.

The people who spread this myth position the employee as a victim who is being “categorized” or “labeled” by someone else. This line of thinking eschews any responsibility by employees for their own job engagement, essentially blaming managers or employers for employees not being engaged. Not only does this discourage employees from having personal responsibility for job engagement, it also establishes a very unhealthy paternalistic environment, where employees place demands like: “You need to do ________ before I become engaged.” That is what I call Conditional Engagement, and much like Conditional Love, it does not work and it is unhealthy.

Isn’t any healthy relationship a two-way street that shares responsibility for the relationship? You bet. At the last company I founded, we did the first–ever scientific study proving a near-perfect correlation between Employee Engagement and Willingness to Own and Accept Responsibility for the employee’s engagement.

The same study revealed that people who are Ambivalent or Actively Disengaged are much more likely to eschew responsibility for their own job engagement and would rather blame someone else for it.

The propagators of Myth #2 place the employee in the role of victims who are labeled by others, as opposed to people who choose to label themselves with their own self-created level of engagement.


Myth #3: The Employee Engagement “movement” is nearing its end.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Unfortunately, this myth and falsehood was promulgated by a wholly unsound and inaccurate article published in Forbes in May of 2015. Here is a link to both the article and the rebuttal I published in response.


There are so many compelling reasons why so much work has yet to be done vis-à-vis employee Engagement. One of the more exciting initiatives to support engagement in the future centers on creating an engagement university, with the intent of creating an actual degree like a B.A. or M.B.A. that is specific to employee engagement. Enterprise Engagement is spearheading this idea, and I’m excited to see where they take it. I will be speaking at their upcoming event in Orlando on April 27th. If you’re attending the conference, please come up an introduce yourself! I welcome a conversation about the engagement myths in this blog post, and I’m always interested in hearing what HR professionals are doing to increase engagement at their organization.


Source 1: Gallup State of the American Workplace, 2016



Kevin Sheridan is an internationally-recognized Keynote Speaker, a New York Times Best Selling Author, and one of the most sought-after voices in the world on the topic of Employee Engagement. For five years running, he has been honored on Inc. Magazine’s top 100 Leadership Speakers in the world, as well as Inc.’s top 100 experts on Employee Engagement. He was also honored to be named to The Employee Engagement Award’s Top 101 Global Influencers on Employee Engagement of 2017.

Having spent thirty years as a high-level Human Capital Management consultant, Kevin has helped some of the world’s largest corporations rebuild a culture that fosters productive engagement, earning him several distinctive awards and honors. Kevin’s premier creation, PEER®, has been consistently recognized as a long-overdue, industry-changing innovation in the field of Employee Engagement. His first book, Building a Magnetic Culture, made six of the best seller lists including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. He is also the author of The Virtual Manager, which explores how to most effectively manage remote workers.

Kevin received a Master of Business Administration from the Harvard Business School in 1988, concentrating his degree in Strategy, Human Resources Management, and Organizational Behavior. He is also a serial entrepreneur, having founded and sold three different companies.