Industry Insights

Holy Grail or Heresy: The Employee's Role in Engagement

Employee engagement has become big business as organizations fight to attract, hire, and retain top talent. With between 70% and 80% of millennial employees categorizing themselves as unhappy at work, the need to improve employee engagement and employee satisfaction has created an industry and business discipline focused on that task alone.

I had somewhat unconsciously decided that employee engagement and satisfaction was the responsibility of the employing organization. It just seemed to make sense to me, until I overheard an interesting conversation. As I was walking by, one colleague said to another, “When that person is engaged, there is no one like her. But when she is disengaged, she is incredibly frustrating to work with.” Initially, I let the words fly in one ear and out the other – obviously, this conversation was none of my business. But the thought didn’t let go of my brain. 

“Is it the responsibility of the employee to be engaged or disengaged?” I wondered to myself. That totally flips my paradigm. As I considered this thought, it seemed empowering – like a call to action to take control of my own destiny and ENGAGE! To bring my best self to work in each moment, to advocate for the activities I see value in because, after all, they hired me for ME! I am personally a fan of Jim Rohn and Zig Ziglar whose mantras include phrases like, “Don’t wish it were easier. Wish you were better,” and “You can have everything you want if you just help enough other people get what they want,” so I see the value and strength in what I bring to each situation. But then I spoke to my husband about it.

My husband is a Sergeant in the Army National Guard and an E-commerce professional at a local bank. He’s been deployed three times during his service, has commanded troops in combat and been an instructor for the Army. When I asked him about his experience and how that had helped form his opinion about where the responsibility of engagement lies, he said, “It’s a two-way street, but one side of the street is busier.” During his service, any time a soldier made a misstep or needed help focusing on a certain area of their lives, a plan was developed that had action items and deliverables for both the soldier and his direct leader. Both individuals had expectations to meet in order to get the soldier where he needed to be. Often the direct leader would have more action items or deliverables in the plan because he would be coaching the soldier and checking in on him periodically for accountability. This method kept the direct leader informed, the soldier focused and usually delivered a positive outcome. So from my husband’s perspective, engagement was a partnership between the employee and the employer, slightly more weighted to the employer.

Then I spoke to Greg Monaco, Partner at Monaco Lange, the engagement consultancy. Greg and I met at an Advanced Learning Institute conference in Nashville, TN. I presented on partnerships between Communicators and IT professionals in a digital workplace. Greg gets it. You know? When you meet someone and you think, “Oh. Yep. I can do a lot less talking because this is someone who I want to learn from.” That’s my impression of Greg. So Greg and I had a call to catch up and I wanted to ask him about his perspective on the roles of the employee and the employer in the engagement game, because that’s what he’s built his platform around. Greg’s thought is that it is the responsibility of the employer to create an environment that employees could engage in. He and his company support organizations as they examine their culture and find ways to create engagement. Along this same vein, one of my favorite episodes of the ICology podcast, a podcast for Internal Communicators, Bev AttfieldDirector of Tactical Marketing at Jostle Corporation, commented, “Companies should stop trying to do engaging things and just be engaging.”

All of this chatting has brought me to three conclusions:

  1. I am incredibly grateful for all the people in my life who have experienced life and work in so many different ways that these conversations were possible.

  2. An organization’s ability to engage employees is based more on the people that make up that organization than the programs that organization has.

  3. In my opinion, the best thing an individual can do is to be their authentic self at work (really all the time) and if they become irreconcilably disengaged with their current organization, realize that they just haven’t found their tribe yet. 

So what do you think? Whose job is employee engagement? How have you seen engagement handled well? How have you seen engagement handled poorly?

If you would like to hear from  Rachel Butts more on employee journey, tune into the featured topic segment of CMS-Connected Show aired on April 29th as she discussed the building blocks of a successful employee journey with analysts Scott Liewehr, Founder and CEO of Digital Clarity Group and Jeff Willinger, Director of Collaboration, Social Business and Intranets at Rightpoint. 


Rachel Williams

Rachel Williams

Rachel Williams is a dot connector and story teller. In her current role as the Client Development Manager at EMERGICON, a Texans-serving-Texans emergency medical billing company, she is using her background as a communicator to help Texas Fire and EMS departments receive the reimbursements they earn so they can continue to serve their communities. She strategically employs technology to connect, educate and inspire colleagues and clients in an industry about which she is passionate.

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