Over that past few years, I’ve been hearing the idea floated more frequently that employees should be accountable for their own engagement.
This is an appealing idea to management because it shifts the burden off of their shoulders (and lord knows that management takes a beating every time engagement is discussed). Leaders like it too because it changes questions like “why don’t our employees trust us as leaders?” to “what’s wrong with our employees that they don’t trust us?”
Leaders like it too because it changes questions like “why don’t our employees trust us as leaders?” to “what’s wrong with our employees that they don’t trust us?”
In this model, when employee engagement is low, it’s the employees who need to be fixed.
And, it’s nonsense.
I’m not suggesting that employees don’t play a role in their own engagement because they do. But engagement, as most commonly measured, is how an employee feels about their experience of work.
To say that an employee is responsible for her own engagement is like arguing that a customer is responsible for their own satisfaction with your product. Leaving the success of your business to luck by hoping that you get optimistic, forgiving customers who happen to like your product is a great way to find yourself out of business.
Employee engagement is the outcome of an engaging work experience. This is why you’ve likely been hearing more discussion of “employee experience” recently. Engagement is an outcome that we measure, but experience is something we can design and shape.
The largely dismal employee engagement trends across our workforce haven’t changed much over the past few decades because the way in which we design and create work experience for employees hasn’t changed much.
We work harder, longer and with more stress today thanks to technology that makes work portable and pervasive across our lives. But, it’s still the same work experience in most cases, just more of it.
To move the needle meaningfully on engagement is going to require a redesign of the work experience itself to make it work better for the humans who do the work.
Making employees responsible for their own engagement in your dysfunctional and disengaging work environment won’t improve engagement. But, it might mean you’ll need to look for a lot of new employees.