Who’s responsible for employee engagement? A common answer – human resources – is also the wrong one.

It may be helpful to pose the question differently.

  • Who is responsible for ensuring employees have the training, tools and resources they need to do their jobs well?
  • Who is responsible for ensuring people have a clear understanding of their job, and how their efforts contribute to the organisation’s success?
  • Who is responsible for setting objective goals that motivate the team and drive growth – both theirs and the organisation’s?
  • Who is responsible for ensuring people can speak up and share their ideas, feedback and concerns freely and confidently?
  • Who holds responsibility for ensuring people feel their work is meaningful, and that they’re part of something bigger?

The answers to these questions are going to vary. Direct supervisors, company leaders, line managers, and the HR team all have accountability for the questions posed above. And for that matter, so do employees: they are responsible for speaking up when they need information, help, or support.

Employee engagement is a shared responsibility

This brings us to the point: employee engagement, which I define as the ability for people to show up feeling present, focused and energised about their work, is a shared responsibility.

All of the questions above impact peoples’ ability to feel present, focused and energised about their work. Consider the impact on individuals if one of those questions doesn’t have a good answer.

  • If employees don’t have the tools or training they need, or if their goals are unclear or unattainable, they’re not going to feel energised – they’ll feel demoralised.
  • If employees don’t have clarity about their roles and responsibilities, how can they possibly have focus?
  • If they aren’t able to share ideas, feedback, opinions and concerns, employees aren’t likely to feel truly present, involved in and contributing to the culture and the company’s success.
  • If employees feel their work is meaningless, how can they feel energised about it and motivated to do their best?

These are just some of the myriad elements of employee engagement, and when any of them are missing, employee engagement declines, and with it, job performance and related outcomes. And this is why employee engagement shouldn’t be just a tick-the-box item on a software menu.

This is the essential link between business performance and engagement, and it’s exactly why employee engagement needs to be everyone’s priority at work. 

It’s remarkably easy to disengage employees. A simple misunderstanding or misperception between a manager and an employee can dampen an individual’s enthusiasm, and plant the seeds of their discontent, which aided by rumour and gossip, can easily spread, eroding team culture and morale.

Happily, it’s also easier than you may think to engage your employees.

Creating shared accountability for employee engagement

Developing a high-performing team isn’t akin to catching lightning in a bottle. It’s not magic. It is mastery, as I have written previously, of steps that when taken repeatedly, create the alignment, belonging and clarity that underpins a fantastic culture and high performance. The key is creating shared accountability for the organisation’s level of engagement. Here are some ideas for accomplishing just that. 

  • Find out your organisation’s current level of engagement and establish the benchmark

However you do it, the first step must be measuring your organisation’s level of engagement and establishing that benchmark. My recommendation for doing that won’t surprise you: a confidential survey of your employees that’s designed to gather their feedback and assess their engagement levels is the most straightforward and empirical method. 

  • Create shared goals for improvement 

With your survey data in hand, you are ready for the next step, which is creating shared goals centred on improving engagement across the workforce.

Share the results with everyone, and share individual leaders’ results with them. Your survey should be organised along the lines of your leadership matrix, enabling you to see results for individual departments, groups and teams, as well as for the whole organisation. Assessing results for each of your leaders will enable the swift identification of any issues that need to be addressed, and provide a benchmark you can use to hold individuals accountable for improving their teams’ engagement.

    • Tip: Team engagement is quantifiable, and can be an incredibly useful tool for evaluating the performance of your organisation’s leaders. Make improving team engagement an OKR for your managers, and not only will you be prioritising engagement, you’ll also be helping managers focus on the right things.
  • Involve employees in the solutions

One of the surest ways to defuse the “us versus them” mentality is to bring people into the fold and be transparent with them about issues they’re experiencing. You can take it a step further by inviting employees to be part of the solution. Create working groups tasked with providing recommendations for addressing issues and opportunities raised by the surveys – you’ll reduce the burden on leaders, demonstrate that employee voices are being heard, and raise confidence and trust between leaders and their teams. Chances are good you’ll also wind up with excellent and actionable recommendations that are more likely to be adopted by the team. 

  • Over-communicate with employees

We use the word “over-communicate” somewhat facetiously, as truly, we don’t believe it’s possible for a leadership team to overcommunicate. Recent research bears out what we have observed in our data for years – most employees believe their leaders are poor communicators, and they feel particularly unclear about post-covid policies and work plans.

The reason I suggest it’s nearly impossible to over-communicate is simple: what you miss out, people will make up. Gaps in leadership communication can quickly lead to misperception, misunderstanding and rumour. The more thorough your communication, the fewer gaps are left for others to fill.

We also are advocates for the principle of “Tell em tell em tell em” which is shorthand for “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.” This is particularly useful for framing the actions being taken as a result of employee feedback. Here’s a simple construct:

  1. Communicate the key employee feedback items upon which the organisation will take action.
  2. Tell the organisation what is being done based on the feedback received.
  3. Keep everyone apprised of progress.
  4. Communicate resulting outcomes, decisions or changes.
  5. Tell the team you’re going to ask for their feedback on the actions taken.
  6. Re-survey the team, and repeat steps 1-6.

Shared engagement, achieved

When you create shared responsibility for employee engagement, you lay the foundation for rapid and positive cultural change, as well as an increase in employee engagement.

By focusing on individual managers on improving their teams’ engagement, you will help them overcome shortcomings and take a surgical approach to performance improvement.

When employees participate in creating solutions, they become stakeholders with a true sense of belonging. They also gain an authentic voice, which leads to feeling valued and respected – two powerful ‘stay factors’ that contribute to employee retention.

The benefits that accrue to senior leaders are perhaps the most profound. You will know where the team stands, as opposed to guessing or making assumptions. Involving employees in the solutions is a form of delegation, reducing workloads while at the same time, building empathy between employees and leaders. Best of all, better data inform better decisions. The wider perspective gained will result in decisions that stick and messages that land.

The result is a workplace in which people feel real ownership and responsibility, which in turn seeds higher performance and a true win-win for all.