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team building

Employee engagement: whose responsibility is it?

2nd Oct 2018
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Employee engagement is a two-way street - managers have to actively listen to their teams, but equally team members have a stake in making sure their voices are heard. Here's how organisations can facilitate that engagement better. 

“The last time I was in a classroom,” Tony said, “was 40 years ago. I didn’t realise how much I would enjoy being here. Honestly,” he continued, “I was worried that I would be too stupid.”

I had just finished a day-long workshop with a group of men who do the roadworks on our motorways, and Tony had stayed behind to tell me this.

Tony had experienced a chance to master a topic – in this case how to have a useful and constructive conversation with his management team about changes that were affecting him and his team.

I think that it’s human nature to get satisfaction out of accomplishing things, from solving the challenges we face. Outside the workplace, we’re all on our own, and knowing what to do to address those challenges isn’t always obvious. At work, however, that has the potential to be a different story.

At work, managers can ensure that their staff can have this feeling of accomplishment by providing two things:

  1. Clear sightlines between the goals they have for success and how they see their employees contributing to this.
  2. The knowledge and tools necessary to achieve those goals.

All I did that day with road workers was provide them with those two things. By the end of the day, they understood what success looked like in terms of talking about change, and they had the knowledge and tools necessary to engage in that conversation.

Employee engagement has to be defined both from the employee’s perspective and the organisation’s.

In other words, they became active participants in the change process and they took personal responsibility for doing it well, and,they derived satisfaction from it. Being active and responsible is part of being at work, and the satisfaction they get from doing it well is the reward.

Are you wondering what this has to do with employee engagement?

For me, employee engagement is about how we as individuals navigate life in the workplace. For me, engagement is all about the freedom and gratification provided by taking responsibility for our own lives. Dan Pink’s book Drive sums this up as autonomy, purpose and mastery, and I think that’s a good way of looking at it.

It shifts the conversation away from 'what am I doing wrong?' or 'I’m too stupid', to 'how can we solve this problem together?' This means that staff and managers speak to each other as adults and equals working together to the same goals.

There are different roles for each, but as both are necessary, it’s less of a question of the boss being parental and directive; instead it becomes a two-way dialogue.

For me, employee engagement is about how we as individuals navigate life in the workplace.

Yes, it comes with a price – at work, we’ll have to compromise, sometimes we’ll have to do things we don’t like or disagree with, we’ll have to stay late on occasion, negotiate difficult relationships and other workplace challenges.

In the right workplace, however, where employees are considered equals and are expected to participate as such, it’s a price worth paying.

So, for me, employee engagement has to be defined both from the employee’s perspective and the organisation’s.

For the employee, employee engagement is about being brave:

  • Carving out your own space.
  • Talking to your line manager about what you need to do your job well now.
  • Talking to your line manager about your career development.

For the organisation, employee engagement is about being clear:

  • Creating a space where employees can do their work well and grow.
  • Ensuring that employees have the knowledge, skills and tools necessary to do their job well.
  • Talking to them as adults and making sure they know what you expect of them – what does success look like?

This can work in any kind of workplace, whether it’s office-based or field-based, whether you work in a rural setting or in the city.

Interested in this topic? Read Employee engagement: the new rules for 21st century teams.

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By unihrm
19th May 2016 17:38

At a fundamental start point engagement cannot be 'given to' employees by an employer. Its an emotional state that is personal to each one of them and taking the journey to being engaged is very much a personal issue. It's a journey of a partnership between employee and employer that can be helped or hindered by the actions of management. As the article suggests each employee has a personal responsibility to accept the ownership of their part of the journey. Without this everything will become a story of 'if only' and 'should have done's.

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By Jasmine Gartner
23rd May 2016 14:29

Thanks for reflecting on this @unihrm, and I agree engagement is something personal!

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