Workforce Engagement, Employer or Employee Responsibility?

Gallup among others has been measuring workforce engagement for at least a decade and a half. In that time the engagement levels in the US have stagnated in the low 30% range. I?m sure in organizations where Gallup or others have become involved in a consulting capacity the numbers have improved. I also know from my own research that there are many organizations that have engagement levels well above the 30% range. The question that I believe is still not clearly answered is who is responsible for employee engagement is it the employer or the employee?

In this brief discussion I am defining full engagement as demonstrated by employees giving their discretionary contribution. I?m defining discretionary contribution as effort expended at a level well above the overall expectations of the position. This effort can be demonstrated by creativity, embracing the big picture and letting that view support personal effort, taking on projects out of the required position requirements, spending additional time on the job in some cases, supporting organizational objectives with enthusiasm, bringing your whole self to work everyday and giving all you can. This could be a never-ending list that can only be defined by the person demonstrating their discretionary contribution. As an employee you always know when you are doing it and as an employer you notice the behaviors and the performance results and you want more of it.

Where does engagement start and what causes it? I won?t attempt to answer this question in this short article, but it is an interesting question. As you are reading this article and thinking about engagement its hard not to think about your own engagement at various times in your career including now.

Although I am a fan of the Gallup research and the Q12 survey they use to measure engagement, I have a sense that at least 30% of us are engaged despite what our employer is doing. If we find the environment unfavorable we find a way to change it from within or we move on where the environment is more to our liking. There may be a possibility that more than 30% of us join a company with the intent to give our discretionary contribution and then if we don?t have strong resolve we allow the environment to negatively impact our willingness to give our discretionary contribution. If this is the case who is responsible for workforce engagement the employee of the employer?

I?m a big fan of workforce engagement and I wrote a book a while back called From OK to Excellence which provides a straight forward formula for workforce engagement. However: I am also a very strong fan of proactive personal accountability. As a member of the workforce you always have the option to give your discretionary contribution and if you don?t believe it is appreciated you can always go somewhere else.

My conclusion is that optimizing performance in any organization is a mutual responsibility of the employer and the employee. However, considering the tendency of some employees to look for what?s wrong versus what?s right I believe that employers are always going to have to take responsibility for creating the environment necessary to encourage all employees to give their discretionary contribution. I also believe that creating that environment is not that difficult. If an employer truly believes that their biggest asset is their workforce, it makes good sense that they would invest whatever time and resources necessary to support the productivity of that asset.

It?s not difficult to look at the Gallup Q12 and determine what actions are necessary to create a positive work environment with a strong level of engagement. As an employee its not hard to figure out that if you came to work every day with the intention of giving your discretionary contribution everything will work out better unless you are in an extremely toxic environment and then you can choose to leave.

I don?t believe I have clearly answered the question of who is accountable for workforce engagement, the employee of the employer but I do believe there is mutual accountability. However, I am inclined to believe that the employer can destroy an employees desire to give their discretionary contribution or create an environment where they want to give it. We all make decisions every day and many times during the day about how much effort we are wiling to make for what result. Both employers and employees are in the people business and the sooner we all start devoting the necessary time and resources to be the best we can be as employers and employees the sooner we will see measured engagement levels rise.

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