Leaders Can Influence, But Every Employee Owns Their Own Engagement

I’ve been asked a couple of times recently, “Do you think ‘employee engagement’ has become just another business buzzword?”

It’s a valid question and one that often arises from a lack of understanding – what drives engagement and why should we care?

Truly engaged employees have “bought in.” They are so passionate about solving the problem, delivering the service, or achieving the goal, they willingly invest more of their own time (discretionary effort) to get those results.

Does this mean they work overtime? Not necessarily, but they are certainly choosing to use their time far more wisely and efficiently.

One truth about employee engagement, however, is that we all as individuals own our own engagement. Yes, there are numerous outside influences on our choice to engage, but it is up to us. Companies cannot engage us.

In an article last month, Gallup explained:

Engagement levels tend to fluctuate substantially from team to team and from person to person within the same team … Unless employees assume some measure of responsibility for their own engagement, the efforts of their organizations, leaders, managers and teams may have a limited effect on improving engagement.”

Choosing to engage yourself

Why would you want to increase your own engagement? After all, that means you are working harder. Simply put, increased personal engagement means increased satisfaction in what you do, increased energy derived from knowing you’ve done something worthwhile, and increased pleasure in the work well done.

Gallup offers several suggestions on how to go about increasing your own engagement in your work.

“Take responsibility and empower yourself by setting measurable, realistic goals and staying focused on and heading in the right direction to attain them. You will be successful because of who you are, not who you aren’t. By leaning on your unique talents and strengths, you can make the most of each day at work, and engagement will follow. And be sure to celebrate your achievements and keep setting the bar higher.”

If you boil that down to three simple steps:

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  1. Define your own engagement.
  2. Use your strengths to form positive engagement habits.
  3. Be accountable to yourself for your success.

Facilitating the engagement of others

That said, leaders and managers are not off the hook. Organization leaders and managers can do quite a great deal to influence that personal and individual choice to engage.

The Lighthouse blog on leadership and management offered quite an interesting perspective on this. (I encourage you to read the entire post as it is quite interesting.) They point to several research studies and reports, but in this context I call your attention to the Gallup Cascade Effect chart below. If you’re managers and leaders aren’t engaged, then their employees likely aren’t engaged either.Gallup-Cascade-Effect

A virtuous circle — but an individual choice

What’s the best thing you can do to increase engagement in your organization? Engage your leaders and managers. Or, as I should say, help your leaders and managers engage first.

It’s a virtuous circle that begins with an individual choice. Make that choice easier for everyone, at every level.

  1. Communicate when people are doing well and share that success through social recognition.
  2. Enable everyone to notice and appreciate the good happening around them every day.
  3. Always remember that no one is an island. We all contribute to the success of our teams, our customers and our company.

How engaged are you? How engaged is your direct manager? How about your senior leader? Do you see a connection?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.


1 Comment on “Leaders Can Influence, But Every Employee Owns Their Own Engagement

  1. Great article! However, with all due respect, I disagree with some of your stances.

    For quite some time, it has been an unspoken truth that employees are expected to be grateful for their opportunity to earn their pay. Companies with good culture and bad culture alike used the economic downfall as a bargaining chip – at some point. Because of this mentality, many employers have halted their efforts to go the extra mile in employee satisfaction.

    That stated, the concept of manager/employee mentorship is quickly fading. The relational correspondence is at best slightly nurturing with no room for mistakes; completely performance driven with little to no professional development. Whom do we blame for this important managerial mistake?

    Do we blame this on the technology age? With access to so many sources of information do we now expect a closer level of perfection and tolerate a lesser level of humanity?

    Far too many “leaders” are expecting employees to motivate themselves. Is that not the opposite of a leader? A “leader” is the first among equals; capable of motivating and inspiring but humble enough to listen to employees. I ask this question; why are we leaving so much in the hands of the employee? Is it because our “leaders” are really “managers” in disguise; unable to provide true leadership? If that be the case, it would be their downfall. They need to humbly admit their faults vs creating a picture of employee incompetency. You may be familiar with a time a “leader” used this approach in your organization. It is a major cause of attrition and turnover.

    In short, so many incapable senior leaders know their organization well enough to hide – and they hide very well.

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