Employee engagement is a two-way street – not solely the responsibility of the employer.

Laura Potgieter  |  13 January 2022

Employee engagement is seen as the sole responsibility of the employer. “What are you doing for your employees?” is the typical narrative at employee engagement conferences. Some organisations place the responsibly for employee engagement directly on the front-line management team given their proximity and influence on their team members. In the office, employees use engagement surveys to vent their frustrations, leaving HR and communications professionals to spend hours in boardrooms trying to solve the problem.

DevCom believes that this conversation is wholly devoid of the reality that employee engagement is a two-way street. We need to re-educate employees about their responsibility to show up and show up. The onus shouldn’t be on the employer to put endless incentive schemes together so that employees can do the jobs that they are paid to do.  Not every team or organisation is led by a great manager. That’s why managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units.

This is a one-sided narrative that needs stamping out. Balance must be brought back into the engagement equation. Employees have rights, yes; but they also have responsibilities. The company needs to provide the optimal environment, yes; but the employee must contribute towards the sustainability and development of that environment.

The reality is that having the right attitude as an employee is not the result of any campaign, or scheme, or bonus incentive – a good attitude is the result of the internal work that you do on yourself. Still confused about who owns engagement?  No problem.  You are not alone.

People leave people; they don’t leave companies. And yet, we rarely hold people accountable for their behaviour at work.

As a small-business owner, Mari Lee, Founder & CEO of DevCom, finds it fascinating that many of her employees believe that she is responsible for shaping their workplace for them. “Not only is this an obvious abdication of their responsibility; it’s also a missed opportunity for them to create the environment that they want. They have the power to do so.”

“I believe that this inclusive approach is far more sustainable than one in which company culture and workplace practices are dictated from the top; employees that take ownership of these dynamics are far more likely to work well within the boundaries that they themselves have put in place.  We cannot reach our goals – personally or collectively – unless we start holding each other accountable. And given the prevailing status quo, radical self-responsibility from each employee is a great place to start.  I employ staff that have bucket loads of talent to achieve superior excellence.”

Give employees meaningful work; check in on them often; discuss engagement with them; provide them with the right training; and make sure that they know what is expected of them – the advice on how to improve employee engagement is endless.

But what about advice on what employees can do to improve engagement? There’s not a lot out there.

Here are some suggestions about what you as an employee can do to elevate your level of engagement at work:

  • First, commit to doing the job that you are paid for and hold yourself to ‘best-practice’ industry standards. It’s your responsibility to ascertain what those standards are, and to upskill yourself so that you can add value to your employer. In return, you’ll get financial compensation, but also the opportunity to master a skill, a feeling of social belonging, and priceless purpose.
  • Second, take responsibility for shaping your workplace. Your behaviour, and the behaviour of your colleagues, drives the culture of the business that you work for. Management and leadership are simply not solely responsible in this regard.
  • Third, stick to the rules. Don’t take sick leave if you don’t need it. Don’t misuse company property. Don’t fake anything (slips, doctor’s notes, the death of a family member – we kid you not). Don’t hide behind systems. Instead of creating a department to micro-manage employees, rather have a conversation about their commitment to being ethical and responsible for their behaviour.
  • Finally, treat others in your workplace with respect. That’s right. YOU. Singular, not plural. Not them. Not the culture. Me. Mina. Ekke. You are responsible for your experience and that of others in your workplace.

Circling back to engagement surveys: If they are to be used, they should include a section that holds individuals accountable for their behaviour. Collective evaluation isn’t good enough – it gives individuals the ability to hide behind their peers or to blame the culture.

It’s not okay to hold only one party in this relationship to account. Creating an engaged workforce and shifting the culture to a better place must be a collaborative effort. But as things stand, it’s the employee in deficit, and they are the ones who need to bring balance to the equation.

So, the next time that you are asked “Who is Responsible for Employee Engagement?” we hope that you will agree with us that Employee Engagement is everyone’s responsibility.  Organisations that proactively define engagement roles and responsibilities ensure greater participation in the engagement process and a much higher level of connection with their employees.