Jill Christensen, Digital Workplace Leader

When Jill Christensen first encountered “dysfunctional” corporate culture, she worked in telecommunications and thought the issue might be limited to that industry.

Once she began advising organizations serving other verticals, it became apparent that all companies face similar “enormous problems” around disengaged employees.

Employee Engagement Is Every Company’s Problem

After a 22-year career in telecoms including heading up global internal communications at Avaya and Western Union, Christensen set up her own management consulting business in 2009. As founder and president of Jill Christensen International, she helps multinationals develop and refine their employee engagement strategies. 

A lively keynote speaker, Christensen is also the author of bestseller “If Not You, Who? How to Crack the Code of Employee Disengagement,” which draws on “how we reinvented the culture at Avaya.”

Christensen will be speaking twice at CMSWire and Digital Workplace Group’s Digital Workplace Experience taking place June 19 through 21 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. She will lead a workshop June 19 on “Four Steps to Re-Engage Employees and Drive Key Business Objectives” and she will give the morning keynote titled, “If Not You, Who? How to Crack the Code of Employee Disengagement” the following day. 

We chatted with Christensen about why she believes employee disengagement is a worsening issue and what organizations should be doing to reengage with staff.

Employee Engagement Isn’t the Same as Employee Happiness

CMSWire: How do you characterize employee disengagement? Is the problem improving or getting more out of hand?

Christensen: It’s employees constantly complaining about the lack of leadership. It’s employees being average and mediocre and only giving a small percentage of what they could give. They don’t feel appreciated. There’s a lack of open and honest communication from senior leadership, a lack of employee recognition and a lack of employee goals being aligned to company goals.

I honestly think employee disengagement is getting worse. Employee engagement efforts have failed over the past three decades because leaders continue to outsource [company] culture to HR. HR hasn’t pushed back and has rolled out employee engagement like an initiative. Employees think it’s the problem du jour and don’t think leadership is serious or engaged. And so it falls flat.

CMSWire: How are companies failing in their attempts to engage (or reengage) with their employees?

Christensen: Employee engagement is when your employees trust your senior leadership and feel an emotional connection to your company. That’s very different from employee happiness. Many leaders are responding to employee disengagement with an office dog, free beer on Friday afternoons, putting a ping pong table in the lounge — it’s to make people happy. 

Happy is not engaged. They are two completely different things.

CMSWire: Do you see any generational differences in how employee disengagement manifests itself in organizations?

Christensen: Now you have those leaders who are failing to engage with employees complaining about millennials instead of taking responsibility for company culture not being inspiring. Senior leadership is blaming millennials, saying they’re not loyal or they don’t know what they want.

There’s nothing wrong with millennials. They’re just unwilling to work in environments where they are not learning. It’s going to be the wakeup call that senior leadership finally need to start fixing their culture, they’re not going to be able to afford not to. Generation Z is coming up behind millennials and they are wired the same.

CMSWire: Has the use of enterprise collaboration software helped or hindered companies from addressing employee disengagement?

Christensen: Companies I’ve consulted in have had a very, very difficult time to actually use those products and services. What senior leadership should really do before they bring in these tools is ask employees: Is this something they’d find beneficial, will it make them more productive? 

I think these tools fall into the bucket of bells and whistles.

To reengage with employees, you simply have to meet their basic needs. Many leaders have glossed over the basics like goal alignment, two-way communication and compensation. It’s like they start buying the curtains for the house but they’ve not yet poured the concrete for the foundations, the foundations are not set. They are much more comfortable providing employees with assets and resources rather than sitting down and having a conversation.

CMSWire: Which roles within organizations should take the lead in engaging employees?

Christensen: Culture will never change for real if senior leadership themselves don’t engage. Employees see the lack of engagement from senior leadership and that makes them less engaged. When you conduct an employee engagement survey and then don’t do anything with the results, it’s just further disengaging. If you’re not going to act on it, then don’t do the survey.

Your employee engagement journey must be led by your CEO together with your managers who are on the front line with your workers.

If you care about your employees and your customers, you have to fix employee engagement, you have no choice. We know the most successful companies in the world have the highest levels of employee engagement. As a leader, if you’re savvy and care about your bottom line, you can’t turn a blind eye to your culture, it’s instrumental in your success.

CMSWire: Who is your favorite musician or band and how far have you traveled to see them? Was the experience worth it?

Christensen: Def Leppard is my favorite band. They got very popular when I was in high school. I’ve seen them in concert multiple times locally. 

I also do regularly get on planes to go and see live music. I saw The Psychedelic Furs in a small theater in Napa Valley in California and then went on a wine tour. Live music and extraordinary wine and food, it was wonderful.

Editor's note: Learn more about the Digital Workplace Experience hereRegister today.