As you can see from the headline, there were two very strong candidates for this week’s honor. After agonizing over my decision for quite a while, I hit upon the solution.  While either choice is worthy of Worst Idea honors on its own, together they are even Worst-er, and as bad as that combination might be, at least it's got that synergy going for it.


This week’s first Worst Idea comes from an article (“Employee Engagement Ideas:  Your Guide For 2016”) appearing on  To its credit, the article is nothing if not straightforward.  It promises ideas about Employee Engagement (EE), and it delivers.  More specifically, it offers 20 EE ideas that are “simple, inexpensive, and shouldn’t require major approvals to get going (think bottoms up more than top down). Most importantly, they’ll get your people engaged and strengthen your company’s culture and performance.”  Those 20 EE ideas are:

1.     Make trust a top priority

2.     Have an off-site retreat

3.     Provide healthy food

4.     Eat a meal together

5.     Give maternity/paternity leave

6.     Make sure people use their vacation time

7.     Clearly communicate company goals

8.     Make everyone the CEO of something

9.     Allow for flexible schedules

10. Celebrate achievements

11. Put your people first

12. Provide the best tools

13. Prioritize personal goals

14. Do a survey

15. Be open to new ways of doing things

16. Make lots of connections

17. Make ethics a priority

18. Value respect and decency

19. Karma matters

20. Bring in outside help

But as extensive as it might be, I have a number of issues with this list.

  • It makes puzzling distinctions:  Trust should be made “a top priority” but ethics merely “a priority.”  Why?
  • It's tone-deaf: Instead of "mak(ing) everyone the CEO of something,” why not just hand out participation ribbons and be done with it?
  • Its taxonomy is muddled:  Seems to me that “Value respect and decency” and “Eat a meal together” are very different things, both in degree and in kind.  It’s a bit like equating “Winning an Olympic Gold Medal in the Decathlon” with “Doing a Push-Up.”

But the biggest issue I have with this list is that it’s just that—a list.  Any given item on it might be ok as far as it goes, but the 20 items don’t really cohere into an integrated whole.  The list’s creation would appear to have been informed by a well-known strategy requiring—How shall I put this?—a limbered up throwing arm and a wall.


It can be found on—“On Employee Engagement: Life’s a Bucket”.  Some excerpts:

  • “Each person has an invisible bucket. It is being constantly filled or emptied, depending on what others say or do to us, and vice versa. A full bucket makes you feel great. An empty bucket makes you feel awful.”
  •  “Praise and recognition help fill buckets. Negativity drains buckets.  A global study of 4,000 employees revealed that praise and recognition tend to increase individual productivity and engagement. Employees with full buckets have higher retention rates, have better safety and attendance records, and receive more customer commendations.”
  • “Our buckets get filled with positive emotions, and drained by negative emotions. Nine out of 10 people say that they are more productive around positive people. Unfortunately, millions of working people grew up in a negative culture.”
  • “At the workplace, it is important to help ensure that employees have more positive emotions than negative ones. In a typical waking day, an average employee can have as many as 20,000 personal interactions. To help ensure a full bucket, positive interactions must outnumber negative interactions ten to one. Negative emotions lead to serious problems. Stress, anger, and hostility have damaging results on the mind and body.”
  • “A study of 839 Mayo Clinic patients over a 30-year period revealed a correlation between optimism or positive attitude and lower risk of early death. Another study of 180 Catholic nuns showed that nuns with positive emotions lived significantly longer than those with negative emotions.”
  • “Be generous. Life’s too short. You can’t bring your wealth to the grave. If you give to others, you fill up their buckets, and yours.”

As with Worst Idea #1, I don’t find much to quarrel with about any one those excerpts.  And #2 is an improvement on #1 in that it does, indeed, have an integrating thread: the bucket.  But there’s a difference between a metaphorical integrating thread and making the same (and, frankly, pretty self-evident) point over and over and over.  By about the fourth bulleted excerpt, weren’t you thinking: “Enough already!  I get it!!" (Although I did find the bit about the nuns kind of interesting.  I’d like to see the cross-tabs between the nuns’ life expectancies and the positivity/negativity ratings of their various Sisters Superior.)

If I hadn’t already told you the source of those excerpts, you would probably have thought they had come from a book with a title something like: Chicken Soup For the Poor Souls Whose Annual Goals Include the Words “Increase Employee Engagement”.


Way back up in the first paragraph of this post, I said that the combination of these two Worst Ideas was synergistic.  How?  Simple.  You can use the bucket from Worst Idea #2 to carry the 20 ideas from Worst Idea #1 over to that wall as you limber up your throwing arm.