Employee Engagement: Be A Player
You are not a pawn.
You are a player.
You don’t work for an organization.
You work with an organization.
When you survey people about who is responsible for employee engagement, you'll often hear the onus placed on HR, senior leadership, managers or internal communications. This reveals a blind spot about the role of the individual in managing their own engagement. It’s ironic given that William Kahn, one of the originators of the focus on engagement, used the term personal engagement rather than employee engagement.
The choice to engage
The drift from personal engagement to employee engagement frequently confused engagement with concepts like satisfaction and great places to work. I define engagement as good work done well with others every day. The only person who can exercise full responsibility for daily engagement is the individual employee. We choose each day, and perhaps minute-to-minute, whether we’ll engage with our work. We can accelerate, shift into neutral or slam into reverse with active disengagement.
Of course, it’s important to hold the organization and others accountable for their influence on engagement. I’m personally responsible for my engagement but I’m also influenced by others. Engagement thrives on personal responsibility while acknowledging that we are rooted in a social framework. Even William Kahn’s recent work has focused on the influence of relationships on engagement.
Taking responsibility for engagement
Timothy R. Clark wrote The Employee Engagement Mindset, documenting evidence and advocating for personal responsibility for engagement. In a large-scale study of highly engaged employees across a range of industries, continents, cultures and demographics, he found that highly engaged employees, “take primary responsibility for their careers, their success and their fulfillment. They own their own engagement. They are the driving forces.” When asked who is responsible for engagement, the most engaged employees take it on themselves.
Personal responsibility transforms you from an organizational pawn into a player. Your engagement is yours and can go with you wherever you work or interact. You are not empowered by someone else because you have always had the power within yourself – you can now experience your power to ignite or dampen down your work.
Make sure individuals know how to engage
To be responsible for engagement you must also be response-able. You can’t tell employees to be engaged and expect them to know what that means and act on it. They need skills to manage results, transitions, relationships, setbacks, performance, and engaging conversations. We’re focusing on educating one group of employees (managers and leaders) but we need to do a better job of teaching all employees how to engage.
Here are 8 ways individuals and organizations can take full responsibility for engagement:
- Survey data should not be limited to senior leadership with a trickle down to employees. Ensure employees have access to their results from any engagement surveys they complete.
- Hold conversations about responsibility and engagement.
- Acknowledge that employees work with the organization, not for the organization.
- Invest in engagement education and skill development for all employees, not just leaders and managers.
- Help employees see the importance of engagement for the organization and experience the benefits of engagement for themselves.
- Transform engagement approaches from programs into daily processes and practices.
- Weave engagement into all the facets of work.
- Remember what William H. Johnsen said, “If it is to be, it is up to me.”
What about disengaged employees?
One of the keys at the core of engagement is to accept full responsibility without moving into blame, excuses or even punishment for disengagement. If someone is disengaged, let’s not make it a punishable offence or tell them it’s up to them and there’s nothing we can do. Disengagement shouldn’t be a punishable offence; it should be a trigger for a conversation. We’re not statistics. We are autonomous individuals making daily choices influenced by a variety of factors.
When you realize the choice to be engaged is yours, you can embrace work as a daily invitation rather than economic coercion or a drudgery of days. You talk less about external drivers and more about being human in your work. I believe we must reframe all work as an invitation and discover ways to make it easy to accept the invitation. Of course, a consistent minimal performer may need to be invited out of the organization.
Take responsibility and engage
Let’s seize engagement as a robust way to approach results, relationships and well-being. Transform the passive noun of engagement into the active verb of engage by embracing personal responsibility for all facets of your work.