A lot of people jumped on the employee engagement bandwagon in recent years and one of the side-effects is that it has become a bit of a cliche.
There's so much noise that it engenders a sort of social-media equivalent of an ice-cream headache.
Because so-many opportunists are offering silver-bullet solutions to the scourge of the walking dead employee in the form of "an app" or "a tech solution" that the zombies have become immune, especially those in the leadership positions who should be taking the subject very seriously indeed.
As I've proven and illustrated time and again throughout my consultancy career, whether with the Omnicom group helping blue chip brands or my consultancy career helping the likes of the Nuffield Group, Northern Ireleand Tourist Board or even tech companies like ARM Holdings, organisation culture, people processes and leadership behaviour are the keys to building sustainable brands.
Yet in recent times we've seen organisations like United Airlines and VW/Audi, Bell Pottinger forget these principles, involving them in costly, high-profile brand disasters. It also affects the public and non-profit sector too as we have seen at Oxfam and even today, Theresa May's government has plunged itself into another avoidable crisis over the deportation of the Windrush generation. This was yet another reputation crisis that could so easily have been avoided with judicious internal culture management and internal communication/engagement rather than reliance on PR to sweep up after yet another disaster.
But this disconnect appears to run deep in too many organisation as well as across government.
On the subject of PR, last year ended with CAFCASS CEO Anthony Douglas making a series of high-profile, ground-breaking announcements about a growing malaise being experienced by loving parents nation-wide, namely the scourge of parent alienation or PA. It is a relatively modern phenomenon where one parent, usually the resident parent, post divorce or separation, exploits the current family courts and blind spots of the social services infrastructure, to abuse their extra time with the children they share to erase the non-resident parent from the children's lives. This has been proven to happen over a lengthy period of time using, what amounts to psychological abuse, to bend the children to their will.
Douglas has now formally recognised the existence of PA and the fact that it is affecting around 1 million of the cases CAFCASS oversees, although pressure groups suggested the figure is more like 4million. Factoring in the 5-6 extended family members this will also affect, that's as many people as the population of Wales and Scotland combined ripped cruelly from the lives of their own children.
Psychological abuse of this nature has been widely proven to have a long-lasting and damaging future impact on children measured in under-perfromance at school in later life, problems with depression, self-harming and failure to thrive. Now add to this the impact on the adults in terms of depression and psychological harm and the impact of as many people as the population of Wales and Scotland combined wasting money on unnecessary legal fees, time off work and the cost of treating them, not to mention the rising levels of related suicide in the targeted population (men around 40), and that is a considerable business case for change.
However, almost a year since Douglas's announcements, pressure groups report that there has been little or no evidence of:
- general awareness or acknowledgement of PA on the CAFCASS front line by vital case staff
- alternative approaches to recognise and address alienating behaviour
So, not to sugar the pill, while corporates would be hemorrhaging money; in the public sector and social/child protection services, because of a failure to engage properly with their own staff, the child abuse continues unabated with little or no change. That too leads to indirect losses of money. There appears, sadly, to be a clear disconnect between the great PR and fine words and employee engagement by the most senior of leaders within CAFCASS.
As a consequence, family courts, reliant on CAFCASS support, remain powerless to address the growing problem and more and more cases of alienation are reported.
Putting the sensitive issue of emotional child abuse and the impact on the economy and well being of people aside, just consider the impact on the trendiest of topics, gender equality and pay at work. Around 97% of UK "singe-parent" households are female led. That's at least 1 million single mothers who will likely be lost to the job market because they are not sharing the parenting of the children they treat like possessions. *
So, ask yourself again, what are the consequences of dis-engagement to organisations?
Well, the example of CAFCASS illustrates this perfectly. Businesses, organisations and brands are not built by external PR and fine words alone. What really counts is action, on the front line, where employees face customers, daily. Communication has not landed until CHANGE occurs.
Hopefully the latest addition to the CAFCASS leadership team, Edward Timpson, will recognise the importance of culture change within CAFCASS and wider social services and the need for proper external support. Because if an organisation set up to protect the welfare of our children can't get this right, will it really matter what commercial organisations hoping to sell to them in future do because goods and services can't compensate for the love and support of both parents.
About Ian Buckingham
Former Omnicom director, consultant and author Ian P Buckingham is the founder of the Bring Yourself 2 Work fellowship and Elder Management Consulting.
They are founded on the principle that true engagement, especially employee engagement, is a vital component of brand and organisation performance and that involvement and authenticity are key to sustainable engagement.
He previously established Interbrand Inside at the home of probably the most respected brand rating, employer brand and evaluation agency, Interbrand, and was a pivotal member of the partner team at the ground breaking internal communication and change management consultancy SDL.
He has so far written two of the three seminal, case-study based texts in the employee engagement/employer brand space which occupy the intersection between HR; Marketing and Communication now known as the brand trilogy and has featured in many more.
Ian is a CIPD columnist, respected and prolific writer and has partnered with clients across sectors to support many leading UK and global brands whether they’re ltd companies, professional services partnerships, not for profit organisations or places/countries. Through his consultancy and his case-study-based writing, Ian has earned a reputation as one of the most insightful and influential champions of authenticity in the workplace as a powerful way of unlocking employee engagement and underpinning sustainable, high performing organisations.
He's also recently written a trilogy of children's fiction books based on Joseph Campbell's hero's journey model.