I think it would be an easy cop-out to say that it is an Employer’s responsibility to keep workers engaged. Drilling down, one may even say it is Management’s sole function to keep workers engaged to ensure high productivity… But, this doesn’t paint the full picture. Yes, without a doubt management needs to actively engage their workers- give them variety in their task, autonomy within their work, and foster the connection one has with the purpose of their work; however, I’d like to focus on the relationship between and employee and an employer and how each plays a role in employee engagement.
As an employee it is also your responsibility to ‘maintain’ your engagement. If you feel yourself becoming disconnected from your work, bored, or feeling unchallenged, you have two options: you can say something to your boss, or you can stay silent. Sitting your boss down and saying your work is boring is not exactly what I’m suggesting- don’t misquote me! But what I am saying is that employers are not mind readers and many take the approach of no news is good news when looking at feedback from employees. Sometimes a candid conversation is needed, especially when the relationship between employee and manager is a good one. Like any relationship, including the employment one, communication is key. If you choose not to voice your concerns or wishes related to your work-that is completely your choice- sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and sometimes the squeaky wheel quietly looks for work at another organization in their spare time.
Remember those “Employee Engagement Surveys”? That is one avenue employers take to solicit feedback from employees and gauge levels of dedication, interest and happiness within the workplace. If the survey is sent out, and management takes no action upon the results, I’d say they shouldn’t have done a survey to begin with! If management receives the results, truly invests in making the changes employees say they need to stay engaged, and actually takes action, that is a great start to ensuring employees are engaged.
I think there is a lot to be learned about corporate culture playing into employee engagement, the law of attraction that states ‘like attracts like’, and the fact that most people like people like themselves. If your organization’s values and culture are strong, you may have a very homogenous workforce which is made up of many employees who are the right ‘fit’ for your organization and therefore are highly engaged simply because they do ‘fit’. Does that mean that whoever does the hiring and recruitment, those who deal with people who don’t even yet work for the company, have a hand in ensuring the workforce is engaged? More often than not, it is the Human Resources Department that actually manages much of the recruitment (gate keeping) for an organization and is also the department that conducts and employee engagement survey… however, I see Human Resources as a partner in engagement, but not the one responsible for it.
In the end, I’d say it takes two to tango and that both the employee and the employer have a role to play and are both responsible for employee engagement. I’m not even going to open the can of worms of talking about the role unions play in engagement… lets save that for another article!
Both employers and employees have an equally important role in ensuring that people are engaged in their work. Employers need to make sure the conditions in the workplace encourage innovation, initiative and growth, because these are key elements in helping employees feel engaged with the work they are doing. Employers also need to set performance management goals with their employees in order to balance expectations and tangible results. This helps to ensure that both employer and employee are on the same page. Employers also need to check in with their employees on a regular basis to discuss growth opportunities and workplace challenges. Staying engaged with employees helps make sure that employees are feeling engaged with their work.
Employees on the other hand need to actively pursue professional development opportunities. Many workplaces not only offer, but encourage employees to work on new projects, take on different roles, and pursue career advancement. I strongly believe that employees need to identify key elements that they are passionate about or interested in to stay engaged with their work. Employees must also be proactive, if they are feeling detached or discouraged in their work they need to talk with their managers/supervisors, and work to identify challenges as well as opportunities to change this situation. Employees need to challenge themselves on a regular basis so they don’t become complacent or bored with the work that they are doing. Employees have a big role in shaping the level of engagement they have with their work.
While there is no magic one-size fits all solution to staying engaged with work, I believe that if both employers and employees work together they can ensure that work stays challenging as well as rewarding. This will be of benefit not only to the employer and employee but to workplace productivity and workplace culture.
Once I had an employee who was a star, well, perhaps, more than once, but this employee, I remember well. She had just graduated with a Degree in Commerce from UBC and we hired her into the HR department at UBC. We hired three graduates that year, and all were amazing, but Janice was my star.
We worked together on many projects and she always exceeded my expectations. So I gave her more challenging tasks. Then one day, she said that she needed to talk to me. By the tone of her voice, I realized that this was going to be a serious discussion. I don’t know how I knew, but just before our meeting, I realized that she was going to tell me that she was leaving, that she had another job offer. And I was right, I was about to lose my star.
I was devastated, really. It might seem strange, but I had hoped that we would continue to work together for many years, and this was not to be. At the same time, I knew that I had nothing to offer her. The HR department was fully staffed and we didn’t have any exciting projects coming up. She had taken some time to study her new employer and she knew this was the move she wanted to make. She was, after all, building her portfolio.
All I needed to do to engage Janice was offer her new opportunities, but this time, I couldn’t do that. I know that she was, and still is, an exceptional employee, (and a wonderful person). Other employees need more.
So how do we engage employees? It strikes me that the first thing we need to do is to be honest in how we describe jobs when we hire people. We need to talk about the mundane along with the exciting, the long work hours as well as the great holidays. In other words, we need to draw a clear picture of the job and not oversell it. This can be difficult, especially if we find someone we really want to hire, but we aren’t sure that the job will offer enough variety or growth for that person. It is so tempting to make promises that we might not be able to keep.
Once we hire a person, we need to check in with them to see how they are doing on the job. I know this is built into many orientation and onboarding programs, but I wonder how often we follow through. In her article, Help New Hires Succeed: Beat the Statistics,Caela Farren, PhD, says that people decide whether they feel comfortable in a job in the first three weeks, so during this brief period it is critical to follow-up.
I have found that people who are learning are more likely to be engaged. I know this might sound odd, but I have also found that the learning doesn’t need to be job related. One of my colleagues at BCIT took time off to improve her math skills, even though math wasn’t even tangentially related to her work. She came back energized, feeling more confident because she had mastered something that had always eluded her. The opportunity to learn new things expands our horizons, makes us think differently, and sometimes, more deeply, about many things. This keeps employees engaged.
Surprisingly enough, I have found that basic amenities in a workplace will also keep people engaged. A lunch room, where staff can gather and share ideas over food makes a huge difference – I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve walked away from our lunch room having made an important discovery that has saved me hours of work. Perhaps a quick IT tip or someone sharing a link to a topic I’m about to explore. These discussions keep us engaged with our colleagues and enable us to better serve our clients.
Seeing one another as multifaceted and engaging on different levels can energize employees. Although not everyone wants to share their private lives at work, many people are willing to share their interests. As I mentioned in an earlier post, where I work, almost everyone travels the world on their vacations, so we have this in common. Sometimes a discussion might begin with travel and end with ideas about work.
I was interested to read about Best Buy’s practice of thinking of employees as a ‘workforce of one’ thus tailoring each person’s work to best utilize their skills challenge them to excel. This reminds me of the idea of mass customization, used by companies like Lands’ End to produce uniforms that are unique to their clients and according to Fralix, mass customization is also used by Porsche, who never make the same car twice!
So while it may seem a daunting task to tailor both the composition of the job and professional development to each employee, I would think that once that employee is engaged, it will take a lot to get them off track.
So back to the original question; engagement, like most things is a moving target and varies with individuals, but I like to think of it as a ‘natural state’. Sometimes we will need to encourage our colleagues or employees and other times they will take us for a ‘spin’ and get us going. Engagement, like energy spreads, it is contagious within the person and within the organization. We are all responsible to keep it going!
Farren,Caela. (2007).Help New Hires Succeed: Beat the Statistics
When I think of motivation, I think of an old episode of The Simpsons where Homer decides that the reason why he’s going to show up for work each day is because he loves his daughter Maggie, and he’s willing to make the daily sacrifice for her. It’s December 17th, and seasonal celebrations are everywhere. Employees are taking vacations, kids are out of school, relatives are in town, and everyone seems to be in a hurry get somewhere. So whose responsibility is it to ensure that employees are engaged in their work?
Motivation fuels engagement. If I want to do something, I’ll do it, it’s as simple as that. Speaking as an employee, I feel that the responsibility of staying engaged at work is largely mine. But I think that`s greatly because of my personal work ethic. If my mind is not challenged with a complex task, or if I feel unappreciated, I’ll disengage from the task at hand. Despite these challenges that can come up in the workplace, as a paid employee, I do feel that it is my responsibility to focus on work during work hours.
On the other hand, as someone who manages employees, I view the salaries that are paid by employers as investments made on behalf of the company. We need to support and develop these investments over time to get the best return. So on the other side of the coin is the reality that employers have a responsibility to all stakeholders to observe the working patterns of their employees, and support their development through training and mentorship.
In Ron Alsop’s book, ‘The Trophy Kids Grow Up’ he writes about how the Millennial Generation is forcing the workforce to change the way they recruit, and ultimately how they manage their staff. The Millennial Generation is made up of those who were born between 1980 – 2001. Key characteristics of this generation include being comfortable with using technology, doing more than one task at all times, and demanding immediate results. He argues that on the one hand, this generation demands immediate payoffs, but on the one hand, the work they produce is also completed swiftly. On the one hand, Millennials want to maintain worklife balance, yet they desire to move quickly up the corporate ladder. ‘The Trophy Kids Grow Up’ is a fascinating exploration into the mindset of the Millennial Generation, and what that means for managers and corporations as a whole.
As a Millennial myself, it is easy to see where my choices fit into the stereotypical Millennial frame of mind. Honestly, some aspects of being a Millennial seem extremely negative, including a constant need to be recognized for one’s work. Still, I strongly believe that the reason why I care about employee engagement is because of my Millennial traits. Not only am I willing to multi-task, voluntarily working through multiple projects at the same time, but I enjoy the challenge of excelling in more than one task. And because I do intend on moving up the corporate ladder over time, my mind is always focused on the business as a whole, and learning all of its parts (rather simply focusing solely on my role).
Again, I can only do so much for my own engagement. I, as an employee, can be excited to learn about the business I am in, and the industry I care so much about. But unless my employer supports that desire to learn through training or mentorship, there’s no other way for my curiosity to go beyond simply that. So to the question ‘whose responsibility is it to ensure that employees are engaged,’ my response is that if motivation fuels engagement, then the responsibility of an employee is to find motivation to work, while the responsibility of an employer is to sustain that forward motion. An employee may be expected to start the car, but an employer needs to provide the gasoline.