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Proof of employee engagement is something freely offered, not asked for. When it’s spontaneously created — short videos showing off new facilities, mom-to-be sendoffs, team acknowledgements, thanks for hard work or extra hours — the resulting videos, memes and giffys are pure gold for employee engagement, employer marketing, onboarding, LinkedIn posts or town halls. They are authentic and positive, which is the source of their value.

Death to the ‘Hostage Video’

Conversely, soliciting proof of employee engagement, asking for the 2-minute video promoting your company, your job, your team or that new product — will get you nothing more than one of those creepy “proof of life” videos you see shortly before a hostage swap or money drop. They are instantly recognized as top-down asks and are devoid of value because of their inauthenticity. Amazingly, management is often unaware of the “hostage video” phenomenon. After all, it’s only two minutes. Everyone has two minutes, right?

A two-minute selfie vlog costs ten minutes in focused thought, four minutes in group discussion, seven minutes in retakes and bloopers, five minutes in editing, and fifteen minutes in procrastination. That five-minute engagement video just cost your entire workforce an hour of their working (not free) time. In addition to all the other stuff they have to do.

Some employees, particularly communication professionals, are masters at this sort of thing. They can pop off a two-minute selfie with ease and flair, often in one take, effortlessly, with a smile, on their way between coffee and the next Zoom call.

But not all workers are live in the right hemisphere of their brains. Many employees (think of software engineers, coders and data architects, people who do real work) might not feel at home in this space and agonize over the assignment, wasting valuable mental and emotional resources. They feel like they are being set up to fail, that all their time and effort will still result in a mediocre, static, creation. That they will let their managers and colleagues down.

The shrapnel fallout in the days and weeks that follow this simple request compounds and cascades well beyond the original ask. Employees are likely to become less engaged than before; less willing to take on additional, “voluntary” tasks, less willing to make promises for delivery given that one-hour tasks pop up now and then like mushrooms. When it comes time to fill in those engagement surveys, these feelings will be resurface. Not the task, as such, but the way they were made to feel.

Happy employees will spontaneously produce happy, engaged content which can be leveraged, with permission of course, for other purposes. Less safe, less empowered. They may feel less respected, undervalued and belittled.

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