Monster Thinking

Insights, news, tips and tricks from the experts at Monster and beyond.

March 2013

Who Owns Employee Engagement?

This guest post is by Don MacPherson, president and co-founder of Modern Survey, a Human Capital measurement software company in Minneapolis. Don is an employee performance expert with 18 years of experience in the field of human capital measurement. Don leads Modern Survey’s consulting and employee engagement practice and oversees all Sales, Marketing, and Consulting efforts. For more information on Modern Survey’s research on employee engagement go to The path to employee engagement is a simple one. The organization makes engagement possible by providing a framework for making engagement possible. That framework begins by communicating a set of organizational values so they are known and understood throughout the organization. Managers and senior leaders are responsible for driving engagement by recognizing employees, developing them, and filling them with belief in the future of their organization. Ultimately, however, each individual employee chooses whether or not to bring their best to work on a day to day basis. That is the frustrating part of the employee engagement equation. Many organizations have the proper cultural framework in place and a skilled set of managers and senior leaders who are focused on engaging employees, yet these organizations are not able to fully engage the vast majority of their employees. Most employees consciously or subconsciously choose to bring less than their best. According to Modern Survey’s research, only 13% of the U.S. workforce is fully engaged and another 22% are moderately engaged. That leaves 65% of U.S. employees either under engaged or disengaged. Even among organizations that Modern Survey deems “Extraordinary”, 40% of their employees are under engaged or disengaged. It’s better, but there is still a great deal of performance potential left untapped. Ask any human resource professional if they expect employees to bring their best to work every day. Most will say “yes”. Then ask if their organization sets an expectation among new hire candidates that, if hired, they are required to bring their best to work. As many as 98% of HR professionals will sheepishly respond “no” to that question. Much attention has been given to the idea of employees being responsible for their own engagement. This is a strong shift from the manager or leadership owning engagement. At the moment, it’s a flawed concept. The reason is that the vast majority of employees don't even know what the concept of engagement is. In the Fall 2012 study of U.S. Workforce Engagement, Modern Survey found that only 42% of all employees understand the concept of employee engagement. It’s a massive challenge for people to own their own engagement when they don’t understand the concept. The more depressing statistic is that only 55% of managers of employees responded that they understood the concept of engagement. Yes, organizations need to create and maintain the framework for making engagement possible. However, if our organizations are to aspire to fully engage the majority of their employees, a huge educational initiative needs to occur. Every manager needs to understand what engagement is, why it is important, what the drivers are and how to have conversations with employees about it. If employers are to hold the individual employee accountable for their own engagement, the educational initiative needs to extend down to each and every employee. It would be unfair to attempt to hold people accountable for something nearly 60% of them don’t understand. This is the great opportunity for HR professionals. American organizations spend over half their budgets on employees and employee related expenses. There is no other part of our organizations where there is a greater gap between current performance and performance potential. By educating every employee about the concept of engagement and equipping managers with the tools to engage employees, HR professionals can help their organizations close this gap and make a greater impression on performance than any other part of the company.
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