“Employee engagement” and online bosses

You may have seen me being grumpy in the past about the phrase Employee Engagement. It’s one of those buzz phrases that get bandied about and in fact end up becoming devalued as a result. But it would be foolish to ignore the truth that more managers making more effort to connect better with their staff would be “a good thing”.

I began to wonder how employee engagement manifests itself online and realised that it is probably quite a big challenge. How does a manager begin to connect with staff online? Is it appropriate on non work systems like Facebook and Linkedin? Linkedin appears a more obvious choice on the face of it but given how much it is used for job hunting would you want your boss part of your network? Even if you have internal social platforms what is the right way to connect with staff? Maybe they are already active and already have extensive networks. Isn’t this potentially the worst case scenario of looking like a Dad dancing at a disco?

We all start by lurking, becoming part of a group online and watching how they communicate and work together. Once we have something to say, or a good question to ask we de-lurk and off we go. But all the harder when you are the boss. Maybe you just have to be brave. Maybe you can’t be everyone’s “friend”. Maybe the social aspect of online tools is a stretch for most managers. Maybe it’s a stretch for most of their staff. Can your manager be your friend? Do you want him to be?

As ever online probably isn’t as different from “real life” as we think. If you have a friendly and outgoing boss who is genuinely interested in you and wants to make a real connection then social tools are going to help. If you don’t, if you have a boss who doesn’t trust you and who always finds reasons to find you wanting, then I reckon the chances of him using any social tools, let alone wanting to be your friend online, are slim!

4 thoughts on ““Employee engagement” and online bosses

  1. Friending in Facebook and the interaction design patterns associated with the consumer "social" tools has left us with the impression that employee engagement and managerial relationships need to be collegial or convivial. I think people easily conflate "social" with sociable or chummy. And as you’ve pointed out above, Euan, a manager need not be couthie (to use a good Scots word) – and even being so might be awkward and at worst damaging.

    Certainly, the most effective managers are those that can navigate conflict, differences of opinions, deal with inappropriate behaviours, and generally influence their staff in a productive direction. Intimacy is only one aspect of trust and you can’t predicate an entire working relationship on being chummy.

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    1. And of course if we didn’t have managers to rely on to "navigate conflict, differences of opinions, deal with inappropriate behaviours, and generally influence their staff in a productive direction" we’d all turn into a directionless rabble…

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  2. I know your writing and anarchic tendencies well enough Euan to understand your last comment – I’m guessing someone who doesn’t make take it the wrong way.

    But on that note, your mate Dave makes a point about the roots of the word manage re: riding horses, etc. The italian version (Snowden & Kurtz, Brambles in the Thicket – of which expression in the passage gave the article its title) maneggiare, entailed "The manege form of horseback riding, a more involved and time-consuming form than modern dressage (which was meant to replace manege with something more accessible to the unskilled) is a similar use of the word. In this earlier meaning the emphasis is on learning with, abiding with, adapting to, respecting, and working with another complex entity: the horse and rider as coevolving brambles in a wider thicket of social traditions surrounding beauty and form."

    Can the concept of management be redeemed in your eyes or is it all for naught?

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    1. There are plenty of good managers out there and in most organisations for the foreseeable future they are indispensable – but I resist the knee jerk reaction that lowering their guard a little, trusting their staff a little, being a little more human, inevitably leads to the end of civilisation as we know it.

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