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We tend to talk about employee engagement in absolute terms, as if it was wholly achievable, but nothing could be further from the truth.

100% engagement is a complete and utter myth

It is simply unattainable.

Not everyone is going to love what they do all the time; telling them otherwise is irresponsible and a downright lie. It does little more than build an unrealistic expectation of what is attainable.

Even Batman has to be Bruce Wayne

The harsh reality of the working world is that some of what we all do sucks. Case in point, I love traveling and meeting new people, but I hate having to fill out expense reports.

But, overall am I satisfied?


And that, my friends, is perhaps what we should all be striving for. Yes, it may lose some of its luster but being “engaged on average” is most likely the honest and logical endpoint of engagement efforts. At the very least it is a step forward from where the majority of public servants find themselves today.

And that's okay

Because employee expectations shift over time. They are based on the zeitgeist, comparable (employment) market conditions, past experiences, and personal preferences. 

That's simply called progress, and I don't know about you but I'll take progress over complacency any day.

Originally published by Nick Charney at
RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Nick Charneytwitter / nickcharneygovloop / nickcharney

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Comment by Nicholas Charney on July 15, 2011 at 9:29am

Loling @ Ed.  Great way to start Friday morning =)


Checked the Page @Stephen, no joy yet, also looking forward to hanging out again, been a while.


Agree w/@Marie - thanks for all the engagement around this post.


@Deborah - don't let them put you down!


@T. Jay followed the link to the post and awesome'd it.

Comment by Ed Albetski on July 15, 2011 at 8:27am
Sorry, Nicholas, I get so much spam, I first read the title of your post as

The Fallacy of 100% Enlargement

And I wondered how THAT got on Govloop...   Time for new glasses.

Comment by Marie E. Hardy on July 14, 2011 at 1:02pm

Thanks for all of the wonderful conversation and insight.  This is a topic I have been pondering for a while.  Mark Hammer succintly summarized what I had been contemplating and now I think I can develop next steps to address the "discretionary effort" of my employees.  Great conversation!!!

"When there is a disjunction between what the employee thought their role was, what kinds of effort they thought would be valued, and what does and doesn't get either acknowledged, recognized, rewarded, appreciated, or have the desired consequence (whether because there IS no consequence or reward or because the 'wrong things' are getting rewarded), then their effort is not justified in their eyes, and motivation decreases.  Their discretionary effort has not been 'engaged'. "

Comment by Stephen Peteritas on July 14, 2011 at 9:54am
Check out the WaPost Fed page tomorrow Nick, we're featuring a write up on this post. Also see ya in 2 weeks!
Comment by Deborah Johnson on July 12, 2011 at 2:27pm
We have a brand-new union, which includes my position.  It suddenly dawned on me the union might have a different idea of what my level of engagement should be when I went to vote on the contract & met our new rep, who expressed what I interpreted as surprise/dismay that I was attending a different city's planning meeting that evening.  (He & I both live in that community, not where I work.)  "Why are you doing that?!" he asked.  "Don't you care about the future of the [-----] property?" I responded.  I have no family; I'm a policy geek; my work is what I do.  I log into my work account on weekends.  I send around articles that might relate at a broader level to our immediate issues.  I'm now waiting for my new union to tell me to stop doing that.
Comment by Jay Johnson on July 12, 2011 at 1:43pm

@Nicholas you reminded me of a previous post I did as well that might apply to this discussion:


The Secret to Giving 110%

Comment by Dennis Snyder on July 12, 2011 at 1:26pm

One tool I use to test engagement (used widely in U.S. government) is to have employees write their own performance appraisals.  The supervisor then correlates the appraisal with the job standards to see if the employee is doing what they are paid for.  Most are spot on and they are as fully engaged as possible, understanding we all have occasional off days or need to disengage from a project to view it differently to achieve results from a fresh approach.  Unfortunately there are those whose appraisal differs from the performance standard, and the self-appraisal works wonders to show someone specifically where they got off-track.  This is a rehabilitative process to recover potential from someone who is well-trained and just needs new focus.  Those who still don't get it are let go.


This is a really great blog, thanks.

Comment by Nicholas Charney on July 12, 2011 at 11:38am

I agree with Alicia's agreement on Mark's assessment ;)

Also Mark - regarding public service motivation, I recall reading a report that essentially found no noticeable connection between people who had high levels of PSM and greater productivity.  In the end the source of motivation mattered far less than the existence of some form of motivation.  I wish I could find it now ... shoot.


Also a while back I wrote about the connection between motivation and online social networks such as Govloop, it may be of interest to people watching this thread.



Comment by Alicia Mazzara on July 12, 2011 at 10:47am

I think Mark hits the nail on the head: the problem is "a disjunction between what the employee thought their role was, what kinds of effort they thought would be valued, and what does and doesn't get either acknowledged, recognized, rewarded". Ideally, you have hired someone who is engaged (though the federal hiring process has all sorts of issues), but people get disillusioned really fast when there's this disconnect. When this happens, it's hard not to take on a , "Why bother?" attitude. It's also really tough to stay engaged when colleagues around you have thrown in the towel. (We used to call these people "the give-ups" at my old agency - they did the bare minimum to get by and generally made everybody else's life difficult.)


To the point about AWS - when I had it, I often spent that extra hour staring at the clock, but there were days where I really needed that extra hour to get my work done. There are diminishing returns to productivity, like anything else. However, there are also benefits to giving people every other Friday off - more refreshed employees, greater overall satisfaction. As long as all the work manages to get done, I'd say it's probably a wash.

Comment by Kathy Nelson on July 12, 2011 at 10:42am
I once read a poem called the "school of the animals".  It culminated with the distruction of the animal world--no one was good at or engaged in their own talents anymore because they were too busy being cross-trained or living up to the 100% engaged employee models.  Engagement in my mind is assigning an employee a set of outcomes to achieve which fit their talents and strengths and provides challenge.  Give them boundaries, give them a voice and let them help build and sustain their own engagement energy--and then let that engagement energy come and go like bursts of jet fuel before a sonic boom.  And when the sonic boom is over, give them downtime to find the next idea.  I like Angela's comments on seeing a future in what they are doing. The truth is they see multiple futures if focused on outcomes instead of task fulfillment and number crunching.  Outcomes may be harder to measure, but far more worth the effort than task measures.

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