Does employee engagement equal personal responsibility?

Jasmine is concerned with practical, tactical ways to bolster employee engagement, diversity and ultimately improve organisational cultures. She gives actionable advice to help HR professionals improve their organisations one step at a time and is known as a trainer, consultant and public speaker. Prior to moving to London in 2008, she was a professor teaching international business majors at the State University of New York.

“The last time I was in a classroom,” Tony said, “was forty 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. But at work – well, 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.

But in the right workplace, 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
  • And 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.

What do you think? How big a part of engagement is personal responsibility?

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