With all the blogs, articles, books, tweets, conferences, webinars, and seminars on workforce engagement that have proliferated to new orders of magnitude in recent years, there is one aspect that has received relatively little attention--holding employees responsible for keeping themselves engaged.
Most of the emphasis and onus has been placed on the responsibility of leaders and managers to keep their employees engaged. The obvious truth is that both managers and employees share responsibility for engagement. The problems is that some managers seem to think it's solely the employee's responsibility and some employees seem to have gotten the idea that it's solely the manager's responsibility. It's the old conundrum of everybody's responsibility being nobody's responsibility.
My concern is that many employers have placed so much pressure on managers to increase staff engagement that their employees are receiving the unintended message that it's somehow permissible for them to passively wait to be motivated. With only about 35% of the U.S. workforce engaged (according to Gallup), we certainly don't need more of this mentality. Another concern is that leaders in some companies have been wrongheadedly using engagement survey results as a cudgel, blaming workers to "get more engaged, or else."
Of course, the case for managers having primary responsibility for workforce engagement was eloquently made by Peter Drucker, who said: “The productivity of work is not the responsibility of the worker, but of the manager.” The highly-respected authority on performance management, Ferdinand Fournies, put it in even stronger terms: "If you truly believe your primary purpose as a manager is to do everything possible to help your employees succeed, you are acknowledging that each time an employee fails, it is one of your failures.”
So how do we simultaneously get this powerful message across to managers while also clearly communicating to employees that keeping themselves engaged is equally imperative?
I believe it begins with understanding the drivers of workforce engagement, then making clear to managers and employees alike what behavior we expect. Some examples:
- If we expect managers to give frequent feedback, we must also challenge employees to ask for feedback when they need it.
- If we expect managers to manage team conflict, we must also expect employees to communicate assertively and not tolerate speaking behind each others' backs.
- If we want managers to provide career coaching to direct reports, we need to let the direct reports know that they are responsible for managing their own careers.
- If we expect managers to seek employee input, we should challenge employees to come forward with their ideas and opinions.
- And if we ask managers to manage employees' workloads equitably, we must also challenge employees to manage their time more effectively.
Let's also not lose sight of the fact that managers and senior leaders are employees, too and that, as the role models they are, keeping all employees engaged begins with keeping themselves engaged. In the best places to work, everyone understands that everyone is responsible for employee engagement.
Recently, I contacted by a Fortune 50 company that has been conducting employee engagement surveys for years and holding managers accountable for following up by acting on the survey results. But the one thing they had not done, was figure out a way to measure employee self-engagement. One of their HR managers happened to have read Re-Engage, the book Mark Hirschfeld and I authored describing the six universal drivers of employee engagement. He had especially liked the chapter on employee self-engagement. I suggested the company make available to all employees the self-engagement survey I had authored. After taking the survey on an internal site, employees are directed to specific actions for taking more responsibility for their own engagement.
These are the kinds of steps that more companies need to be taking if they want their workforce engagement initiatives to be balanced and effective. I'd be interested in knowing what initiatives your company is taking to make sure employees know what's expected when it comes to keeping themselves engaged.
About the author
Leigh Branham helps organizations analyze the root causes of employee disengagement and turnover, and develop and implement strategies to become "employers-of-choice." He is also a frequent speaker to national and international audiences on "The 7 Reasons Employees Disengage", "Managing Four Generations in the Workforce", and "Beating the Bear Market through Engaged Employees." He is the Founder of Keeping the People, Inc.