When speaking at conferences I ask audiences to raise their hands if their employee engagement scores have gone up in the past two years. Few flinch, and most look around to see if they see if any other hands have gone up.

Their collective response matches Gallup’s data, that employee engagement has been stuck for the past 15 years. While we’ve had wide variations of war, peace, strong and weak economies, and of course democrats and republicans, employee engagement is the constant. Stuck.

The culprit is surveys, but not because they’re wrong. We tend to make the easy and very wrong assumption that once we have data, we can leap to solutions. Employees say we don’t communicate? Town hall meetings and newsletters. No recognition? Employee appreciation week and employee of the month. No careers here? Brown-bag luncheon series on careers.

These programs, along with similar engagement “fixes”, is an annual $1.5 billion dollar business according to Deloitte. That’s billion with a B.

How can we be so wrong? That’s the straight-line, simple part. Gallup data also shines light on the solution and this picture tells the tale:

Gallup Mgmt Graph

For those employees who were engaged in their jobs, 65% reported the degree of closeness they felt to their managers as a three or higher on a five-point scale. And for those who were disengaged, 80% reported their closeness to their managers as a one.

I ask groups of CEOs to raise their hands if they can think of at least one manager in their companies who has trouble building trust with their teams. Nearly all do. Why, then, do they continue to conduct employee engagement surveys when they can’t possibly improve them?

So how much do employee-of-the-month recognition programs impact engagement scores? I suspect none, unless you win and that’s a maybe. Town hall meetings? Doubt it. All the other program solutions we put into place each year after surveys? Not a lick.

How do I know? Because Gallup tells us engagement has been stuck for 15 years and every company we talk with tells the same stories. We survey/do programs/re-survey/more programs/never a change in our results.

I suggest you tell your managers they have an engagement score they need to improve and hold them accountable. Reward the good ones and coach the ones who need help. And if they need help three times, go find better managers.