Whilst we’re fretting about how engaged our employees are it’s easy to forget how far we’ve come. A few decades ago personnel, as we tended to be called, had much less direct contact with individuals. There were sides. There were intermediaries. We had Industrial Relations, they had Trade Unions. It’s no coincidence that the term employee engagement was coined in 1990, following a decade of successful political efforts to curb union power. Membership has continued to decline ever since, along with the traditional unionised industries like manufacturing and mining. The final nail in the coffin has been the parallel exponential growth of service industries, which have the lowest levels of union membership of all sectors.
And despite this, the unions aren’t taking it lying down. At least a few times a year the threat of a strike, and even actual strikes, means that travel chaos is threatened or our kids get a day off school. If you want a real flavour of trade union zeal come to my part of the world.