There is a company I know who give their employees bacon sandwiches on pay day morning and cold beers on a Friday afternoon. They even hand out ice creams when its hot. I suspect they consider themselves to be active exponents of employee engagement, but I'm not so sure about that. If this same company is also investing in a really strong communications programme, has an excellent recruitment process and a well branded, comfortable working environment then that's great. But I don't think they do. I think its just the bacon.
Its not that there's anything wrong in doing nice things for employees. In any relationship, this kind of gesture has a place. A lady who's husband brings her flowers every Friday will certainly appreciate them, and against the context of a happy relationship will consider them as an example of love in her marriage. But if he brings flowers every Friday before spending the weekend in the pub and leaving her alone with the children again, the bouquet will be met with cynicism, indifference, and might well end up in the bin.
Gestures without real action result in cynicism. Interestingly, research recently conducted by BlessingWhite picked up on the fact that it is only disengaged employees who stay at a company for what they get (salary, incentives, bacon sandwiches). Engaged employees stay for what they give (they like their work).
So then, where does that leave us? Employee engagement is not about hand outs or incentives. Nor is it soley about internal communicatons. It IS about creating belief in your company from the inside before focusing on what you tell your external audience. It IS about empowering employees to deliver against business objectives, by arming them with all the information and education they need and... oh go on then, the odd bacon sandwich.
Disagree? I'd love to hear examples of engagement initiatives that you've seen in action, and whether or not they worked.