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Would Being Compared to a Rodent Make You Candid on a Survey?

The fake pirate flag flown by some weekend boaters is an apt motto for what has become of many employee engagement surveys.

“The beatings will continue,” it says, “until morale improves.”

The disparagement of poorly managed employees continues unabated, despite the fact that the problem has been well publicized (and well mocked) and the pressure to inflate scores is an open secret in the worst offending firms. This malpractice, which threatens the whole concept of employee engagement, should have ended by now.

The latest offender is Sean Graber, CEO of a firm called Virtuali, writing last week on the Harvard Business Review site. Of his “9 Employee Engagement Archetypes,” seven are personal insults. Fail to be perfectly chipper on his tests of morale and motivation and he will brand you variously a “brat,” “under-achiever,” “delinquent,” “drifter,” “saboteur,” “cynic,” or “martyr.” One firm labels its clients’ employees “hamsters.”

My new column on the mud-slinging problem is available on


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