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Feb 27, 2014

I’ve been reflecting lately on who is actually responsible for employee engagement.

At first, it might seem like a pretty straightforward answer. After all, if a company wants employees more engaged, isn’t it the company’s responsibility?

But after some recent conversations with a few colleagues, it occurred to me that it might be worthwhile delving into this a bit more.

Is it just the organization’s responsibility?

On one hand, every organization ought to strive to have an engaged workforce. Recent studies by Gallup and HBR have once again highlighted the correlation between profitability and engagement. Engagement is supported by good leadership and a positive culture, but as we’ve seen, levels of engagement haven’t changed much over the last 10 years.

People become less and less enthused when leaders are dismissive, don’t show respect and/or lack integrity. It’s human nature to become disenchanted with someone we don’t respect and trust.

So from that perspective, it’s up to the organization to keep disengagement from occurring.

A dysfunctional culture has a similar effect on engagement. A culture that doesn’t provide a supportive environment causes people’s enthusiasm to wane.

Culture is defined by the values and behaviors tolerated by an organization. You might argue that it’s up to the leaders to model that – which is true. But a good leader here and there only makes a difference to those they directly impact.

A company’s culture is created by the values and behaviors demonstrated across the majority of the organization. In other words, a significant majority of the leaders must be living the values and behaviors to make it a culture.

Individuals can’t abdicate their own responsibility

So once again, the responsibility for ensuring engagement seems to fall on the shoulders of the organization.

But every coin has two sides. If people strictly rely on the organization they work for to help them stay engaged, they abdicate their responsibility for their professional future, their happiness, and the fulfillment they derive from work.

At the end of the day, who suffers more if a person is unhappy and disengaged at work — the employee or the company? The company suffers by not getting the results they could get if their workforce was more engaged, but the person who is unhappy and unfulfilled at work carries that with them 24 hours a day.

I suspect we’ve all had a job we didn’t like, a boss we didn’t like, and a company culture we didn’t like. The consequence was we were frustrated and unhappy. It affected our sleep, our home life, our weight, our stress, and our weekends.

Besides affecting our personal life, a less than perfect situation can have a serious impact on our professional life.

In the end, it’s up to each of us

Not long ago, I worked with someone who had been promoted into an executive position. He was technically competent, but hadn’t been groomed as a leader.

He knew he didn’t have the leadership skills he needed, but he waited for the company to help him get training and coaching. He never took personal responsibility for his own success. He never asked for help nor did he take it upon himself to seek it out.

Ultimately, the damage he caused within his department was so great that the company had to let him go. (I worked with him to find a new position.)

It’s up to each person to take responsibility for their own success, fulfillment, and happiness. It’s up to each of us to better ourselves and grow both personally and professionally. It’s up to each of us to set an example at work of what acceptable values and behaviors ought to be.

And it’s up to each one of us not to tolerate bad behavior at work. We need to either make a difference or leave. Tolerating dysfunction not only makes us unhappy, it drains our energy, causes undue for stress, and reinforces that bad behavior.

The bottom line is that being engaged is everyone’s responsibility. Each party must do its share in making the workplace and the work better.