Employee Engagement: whose responsibility is it?

Employees happy at work

An engaged workforce is an efficient and happy workforce, but is it the charge of the employees to get their act together or should the impetus come from above?

It’s one of the biggest challenges for small business owners and multi-national corporations alike – how do you make your workforce feel engaged in their daily tasks? How do you make them excited to get to work, or inspire them to make improvements to work processes? How do you get them to invest in your vision?

In short, it’s not easy. Human beings are complex creatures, each of us with a multitude of catalysts, reasons, and motivations for making the myriad decisions we do. It is very difficult to imagine a company where all individuals turn up to work fully engaged, itching to pull together and project the company forward. Egotism, boredom, ambition, money are just a handful of factors but in truth there could be hundreds more. Gallup, the pollster, recently reported that only one-third of American workers are engaged in their work and 16% are actively disengaged. In a 2013 survey, only 24% of the 550 executives surveyed reported that employees in their organisation are highly engaged. These figures are sad not least because we have all felt disengaged from a particular job in our lives and without a sense of purpose, daily life can become pretty desperate. From the employers point of view, disengagement is painful in the purse, estimated between $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity per year.

Who is responsible for employee engagement activities?

We all are. From the self-motivations of the workers themselves, to the inspirational management teams to the visionary CEO and founder, each one of us has a duty to find a way to dial in our attention and make something of our time.

That said, some of us are more responsible than others. In a typically hierarchical corporate structure, managing the employee experience is a duty that falls largely upon senior leadership teams. Everything from a leadership style and remuneration policies to the design of the workspace and culture are determined by senior leaders. Moreover, it’s the senior leadership’s responsibility to hire self-motivated and engaged people in the first place. But it can be all too easy to forget about employee experience when you’re in the thick of big decision-making amid a hectic schedule. Even the best HR departments can get side-tracked or themselves feel disengaged. So if you’re a leader of an organisation, the following steps will ensure that those around you feel the same impetus to engage with their work:

  1. Make your expectations clear:
    Giving your employees clear, well-defined performance goals gives them a target to aim for, with no ambiguity. Even better, provide them with a course of action and give them the support they need to achieve this. If they feel like you’re helping them grow, they will develop a much-improved sense of purpose.
  2. Tools require opportunities:
    You can give them all the tools they need, but without opportunities they won’t take them out of the box. You must create a working environment within which employees feel both capable and autonomous. The tools (which could be in the form of new skill development) give them the confidence to create opportunities.
  3. Nurture teams within teams:
    Most of us feel happier as part of a group but if the group is too big, we can feel anonymous. Smaller groups all interacting with one another helps to develop a kinship. More interactions boost our sense of community.
  4. Feedback, little and often:
    No one wants to be lectured periodically but we are much more amenable to regular updates on our progress. Schedule brief weekly updates with your team members, where you can offer recognition of great work, advice, and suggestions for improvement. This is far more productive than, say, an annual performance review that nearly always has a bonus riding on it.

Remember that an engaged workforce tends to translate into an engaged customer base – happy employees make for satisfied customers.

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