Is Management The Sole Responsible for Employee Engagement?

Employee engagement is a growing focus for many companies around the world and with good reason. One of the challenges that rise with this strategic concept is the growing question: Is management the sole responsible for employee engagement?

Experts say Yes and No

As confusing as this initial answer might seem it’s actually putting things into perspective. Let’s see where these answers intersect.

Gary Lear advises executives on how to increase their organization’s performance by being more effective at managing the human side of their business. He argues that employee engagement is a managerial responsibility, based on a company’s power structure. From his standpoint, “managers have to understand that they control the environment and the culture of the organization.“

It’s also a fact that employees have huge difficulties in being engaged if they don’t have a positive and productive relationship with their boss. Netsurvey’s cross-correlation of responses shows that 87% of employee promoters of their company also highly rate their direct supervisor. Source

I think it’s true, up to a certain point. This “power” prerogative that managers have allows a bigger control over the company culture. They can set general guidelines and implement policies that have a big impact on employee engagement. But do they have absolute control over it?

Victor Lipman makes a great point in his article “Why Employee Engagement Is Not Just The Job Of Management”.

“Employees themselves, and the attitudes and mindsets with which they choose to approach each day, are key elements in the engagement equation.

While this is common sense, it also makes good career and business sense, and it’s the aspect of the engagement dynamic that receives consistently less attention. When faced with circumstances that frustrate us (as employees often do), we all have a choice in how we respond: to succumb to (perhaps justified) feelings of negativity and anger, or to try to constructively overcome these inevitable frustrations.“

A third option: the organization

As logical as it sounds, I feel like this answer more ambiguous than “Yes and No”.

Gary Cattermole is a Director at The Survey Initiative. He argues that the organization as a whole is responsible.

“As an organization what you can do is create an environment where engagement can thrive – where employees naturally, without coercion, are more productive, more innovate, better advocates and (in our view more importantly) become healthier individuals as a result.

An organization must ensure that their people feel genuinely valued, it is clear what they do contributes to a bigger picture and that things are fair and equitable.  Where the work is challenging and stimulating and where the rewards for hard work are shared amongst everyone.”

It sounds good in theory but who’s the organization? Are we talking about its head or its body? Seems like we’re back to the first question.

Management offers a framework

Employee engagement is not something that happens. It’s also not something that’s done. It requires a framework, a strategy, people in charge with implementing that strategy and a company culture that integrates it, making everyone responsible.

Engagement drivers are both internal and external. Most of the time they’re very hard to isolate, to determine the exact cause of a high or low engagement level. An efficient way to correctly identify and analyze engagement drivers is to track them for a period of time, and gather relevant data to map out a pattern. Every company has its own culture and its own engagement dynamic.

Here’s where management steps in. They should be in charge of creating or implementing such a system, to monitor and asses the engagement drivers and dynamic within a company. Without a structure, the measurement for employee engagement in a company is “I like my job”, “I’m ok” or “I’m leaving”.

Like parents, they’re responsible to teach employees what engagement is, how it works and what are their responsibilities.

On the other hand, employees are also responsible for managing engagement. In his book, Employee Engagement for Everyone, Kevin Kruse points out:

“Your company and your manager have a large role to play when it comes to employee engagement.  But half the battle is up to you.  You can choose your attitude.  You need to be mindful of engagement.”

Managers are only ½ the equation, in the words of Paul Hebert:

“Employees have a job to do as well.  Just like the opening line of the speech, managers have a job AND employees have a job – if they want to truly impact engagement, satisfaction, retention, etc.(…)

As a manager or as a company – if you spend too much time creating “engagement” strategies to keep employees, without asking for something in return, you foster an entitlement mentality. Your employees can smell that fear.  And they just might take advantage of it. If you’re a manager – balance the scales. If you’re an “employee” (aren’t we all) – balance the scales.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Image via under C.C.0 license