Are Employees Responsible for Their Own Engagement?Are Employees Responsible for Their Own Engagement? https://i1.wp.com/jasonlauritsen.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Canva-Woman-Sitting-in-Chair-Near-Board-sm.jpg?fit=1025%2C684&ssl=1 1025 684 Jason Lauritsen https://i1.wp.com/jasonlauritsen.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Canva-Woman-Sitting-in-Chair-Near-Board-sm.jpg?fit=1025%2C684&ssl=1
There’s an interesting “chicken or the egg” debate going on regarding employee engagement. Maybe you’ve had some version of this discussion within your own organization.
Who is responsible for employee engagement?
- Is it the employer/manager/leader’s job to engage employees?
- Or is it the responsibility of the employee to BE engaged?
It reminds me of my time as an executive recruiter (i.e., headhunter) back in the late nineties.
My niche was technology sales professionals. It was a competitive market for recruiters at the time. Every big technology company had openings, and the salespeople knew they were valuable.
Being a recruiter is like being a matchmaker. It’s about finding and pairing the right people together for a happy relationship.
I realized early on that to find success in this role meant diving deep into understanding the organization, the role, and the situation surrounding the position they were looking to fill. Only with a deep understanding of these things could I find the right match.
These matches were critical to my financial success. The way we worked, I was only paid if they hired one of my candidates. And if that person left before the end of a guaranty period (typically three to six months), I’d have to either replace the new hire or refund the fee.
The bottom line is that I became really skilled at understanding the employer’s side of the equation. At first, I saw this as a way to find someone who could thrive in the organization. But I realized in time that what I was doing more often was something different.
As I asked questions of my clients to understand their culture and work environment, I began to see dysfunction everywhere: bad management, poor work environment, sketchy comp plans, and much more.
It became increasingly clear that making a good match was less about thriving and more about surviving. I needed to find someone who met the criteria of that role and could be convinced to take a look at it. In addition, it had to be someone with the right mix of attributes to survive the unique mix of dysfunction at that particular company or location.
Ultimately, this is why I left recruiting. I didn’t want to work within the dysfunction to enable it; I wanted to fix it. Operating in a world where a broken work experience was treated as a fixed variable didn’t work for me. I believed that work didn’t have to be defined by dysfunction.
That brings me back to this discussion about employee engagement and who’s responsible for it: the employer or the employee.
Employees being responsible for their own engagement is an appetizing thought if you are a leader. If that’s true, then you are off the hook. So long as you don’t do anything too terrible, it’s not your problem if employees aren’t engaged. It’s because you have defective employees.
And that is a failure of HR. If they did a better job of finding and screening the right people, you’d have an engaged workforce.
In this way of thinking, it’s not the leaders or managers who are responsible for our disengaged employees, it’s HR (and all of those employees who are choosing not to be fully engaged). Therefore, to fix employee engagement, we need to first fix HR. Because leadership isn’t responsible for employee engagement. Nothing to see here.
But that’s clearly ridiculous.
It’s the same dynamic that drove me out of recruiting as a profession. To fix engagement, find employees who can survive the dysfunction and learn to love it.
I’m not suggesting that employees have no accountability in their own engagement. Of course they do.
But to put it all on the employee is the same as telling someone that it is their responsibility to be happy in their marriage even if their partner is unattentive, borderline abusive, and unfaithful. I’m not going to tell them that.
Now let’s go a step further.
Employee engagement as a practice exists to help employees perform to their potential at work. Since performance serves the purpose of the organization–to deliver value to its customers–it’s the organization’s responsibility. To argue that anyone other than those charged with achieving the organization’s purpose, namely the most senior leaders, are primarily responsible for creating an engaging work environment is to miss the point of why organizations exist in the first place.
While there are certainly things we can teach employees to help make their work experience more enjoyable and productive, it’s still the responsibility of the organization to see that this happens. Employees must be clear on expectations and be held accountable to those, but that’s the work of management and should be a baseline expectation in any organization.
Employee engagement is in “how” you approach the work of management. It’s about the experience you create at work each day and how that experience enables employees to do and be their best.
Bottom line: Employee engagement is the responsibility of the employer and leader. Period.
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