Should Employees Be Accountable For Their Own Engagement?

By Kevin Kruse

Whose job is it to increase engagement?

Whenever I ask that question in a group, answers typically include:

  • The HR department needs to champion engagement.”
  • Engagement needs C-level support.”
  • You have to focus on the front-line managers, make them accountable.”

All good answers.

How people can proactively increase engagement

And yet, what has been missing for decades in the fight to increase employee engagement, are the individual employees themselves. According to IDG Research, 43 percent of engagement comes from intrinsic motivation. This means that despite the best efforts of corporate leadership and front-line managers, all that they do is only half the equation for success.

Taking lessons from the positive psychology movement, we can actually help people to proactively increase their own level of engagement.

First, employees need to identify the motivation triggers that matter to them most.

Research is really good at revealing the top drivers of engagement for the masses, but each of us is an individual, with our own personality and stage of career. I may really crave growth opportunities at my early career point, while you might be more interested in recognition if you are only a couple years away from retirement.

To support this first step, an online assessment is available to all at, to show the relative importance Growth, Recognition, Trust and Communication to each individual.

What is your organization already doing?

Second, we need to teach employees to be mindful of all that their organization and manager is already doing to drive engagement.

I’ve often asked people to write down all the things the company does to foster a specific domain, like communication. Some will write “Nothing” or just a couple items. But when I share a long generic list of what many companies do, including items like one-on-one meetings, team meetings, town hall meetings, company newsletter, intranet, annual performance reviews, Yammer, and on and on, and ask employees how many from the complete list their company provides, the list is quite long.

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An “aha” moment occurs when they realize, “I guess they are doing a lot more on communication than I realized.”

Third, we need to teach employees how to proactively partner with their bosses.

You think communication is lacking? Great, huddle with your supervisor to suggest specific actions that can improve the situation. Don’t think the company is supporting your growth? OK, hold a career path meeting with your supervisor to discuss your goals and what it’s going to take to accomplish them.

Having an honest conversation

What individual workers need is the message that they actually have an obligation to contact their supervisor if they aren’t satisfied; we can give them tools like model emails and “conversation starters” to help them navigate these conversations.

The cynics will say this is just pushing engagement onto employees so C-level executives can say, “It’s their fault not ours!” But we can’t be afraid to have an honest conversation around the importance of intrinsic motivation, and an individual’s obligation to be engaged and to drive the engagement of others.

C-level support, management training, and ongoing surveys are critical to achieving any engagement initiative. Yet, we must also recognize what individuals brings to the table and teach them that creating a great workplace culture is part of their job too.

Excerpted from Employee Engagement for Everyone: 4 Keys to Happiness and Fulfillment at Work, by Kevin Kruse. Copyright 2013 by Kevin Kruse. Published in Philadelphia, PA, by The Center for Wholehearted Leadership.

Kevin Kruse is a New York Times best selling author, Best Places to Work award winner, and a globally recognized expert on employee engagement and leadership. Contact him at