Social Media Has Ruined Employee Engagement

But Not In The Way You Think

 Social Media and Work

Social media has had a lot of different impacts on the workplace, both for better and for worse. When people think of its more negative impacts on the workplace, they are usually talking about how it is a huge distraction. Which can be true, studies have shown that social media has caused significant increases in time theft, lower productivity, and reduced employee motivation. However, the distraction part of social media and its link to lower employee productivity is not what this article is about.

What we are talking about is how the term “engagement” has been slowly redefined by social media, and how that is causing huge issues in our workplaces today.

There have been hundreds of studies that refer to the value of the importance of having engaged employees. There are many, many statistics that support this idea, here is just a small sample:

The impact of engaged employees is very clear. However, what seems to be much less clear is how people understand what creating engaged employees actually means. This brings us to a fundamental misunderstanding that is the root cause of many issues related to creating employee engagement.

When you read about the benefits of engaged employees, you are reading about what happens when employees have a high level of motivation and enthusiasm in their job. It is the result of what happens when employees are recognized, given some autonomy, encouraged to improve, and can find a sense of purpose in their work. This is the NOUN of engagement. Having engagement in your work.

The problem is that many organizations do not think of engagement as the noun, something to build and create. They think of it as a VERB of doing engagement. We have a short little video that explains these differences quite nicely, click here to check it out.


Now, this brings us back to the earlier statement that social media is ruining engagement. This way of thinking of engagement, as a verb, has largely evolved from the rise of social media in businesses. Specifically around measuring the impact of social media marketing and follower interactions.

Social media has (unintentionally) redefined engagement and changed our understanding of what it is and what it looks like. We no longer think of it primarily as a noun of having engagement in our employees through giving them a workplace that provides them opportunities to be successful. We now default to thinking of it as a metric of how many people have seen or interacted with something you posted, shared, or broadcasted. This shift has made us completely misunderstand what creating employee engagement is.

To create engaged employees who are motivated and inspired we need to be improving the workplace culture, leading with integrity, and creating a welcoming workplace.

But our new way of thinking about employee engagement in a similar way as a social media metric has us trying to create engagement through broadcasting information, providing surveys, and giving shout outs. These actions may give you good interaction numbers and are fairly easy to measure with “emails opened”, “surveys completed”, and “information shared”, but they do not create motivation and enthusiasm in employees.

These easy-to-track interactions of the verb of engagement also give us a false sense of accomplishment. We see these easy-to-track numbers and think we are doing well with our engagement efforts. But, then we do not see the increased productivity or decreased absenteeism, and we think – “employee engagement, what a waste of time that was”. Then we are less likely to make additional efforts later.

This is specifically how social media has ruined engagement. It has taught us to do the wrong things, making us unsuccessful in achieving our goals, and we give up on implementing new efforts to create engagement.

But, just to clarify…

It is important to make a few points of clarification.

First, surveys and measurement tools that capture data to track success are important to monitor effectiveness. These can be important components for efforts to improve workplace culture and track improvements. But they are tools to measure the success of employee engagement efforts, they are not engagement efforts by themselves.

Second, social media is not 100% to blame for this understanding of what engagement is. But its rise in business applications and expansive options for metrics and measurement tools conditioned all of us to learn to think in their terms. It is just an example of how effective classical conditioning is.

The Takeaway

Many well-meaning and hardworking business leaders have fallen into the trap of using the verb of engagement as a way to improve employee motivation. Their lack of success creates doubt in the true importance of creating engaged employees. However, if we can get this idea that we need to rethink what our understanding of creating engagement is, maybe we can give it another chance, and actually start creating meaningful change.

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