Leadership | Personal development | Talent management

Who’s responsible for employee engagement? Everyone

You might insist your entire staff is engaged and on point.

I insist you’re delusional.

According to a recent Gallup survey, nearly 70 percent of U.S. workers are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their jobs. That means nearly seven of every 10 of your employees either don’t care about your organization’s mission or are actively trying to undermine it.

I find that stunning. Seventy percent of the workforce doesn’t give a crap about the work they do … or the work their organizations do.

How do you feel about your mission now?

While you’re thinking about that, consider this: According to Gallup, disengaged employees cost the U.S. economy between $450 billion and $550 billion annually. And each time you hire someone who is a bad fit for your culture, you cost your organization between $25,000 and $50,000, according to a recent CareerBuilder study.

The financial impact of disengagement on the enterprise is well documented. But here’s a question worth pondering: What’s the impact of disengagement on the employee?

According to Tom Rath and Jim Harter, it’s pretty harsh.

In their book Well Being: The Five Essential Elements, Rath and Harter cite their own research with this eye-opening passage:

"(T)hose who were actively disengaged in their careers in 2008 were nearly twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression over the next year. While there are many factors that contribute to depression, being disengaged at work appears to be a leading indicator of a subsequent clinical diagnosis of depression.

“On a more encouraging note,” the authors are quick to add, “as workers become more engaged, their physical health can improve in parallel."

So yes, employers have an obligation to maximize their workers’ engagement on the job — both for their own bottom line and their workers’ peace of mind. And the best way to do that, Rath and Harter suggest, is to let your employees use their natural strengths to do their best work.

“Compared to those who do not get to focus on what they do best, people who have the opportunity to use their strengths are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life,” the authors write.

Still, the entire “employee engagement” burden isn’t management’s alone to bear. Employees are as responsible for making sure they’re engaged as their bosses are.

Management consultant Marshall Goldsmith makes a great point in his recent LinkedIn post: “It’s true that creating a great environment is a key factor building engagement,” he writes, “and we all have the opportunity to take responsibility for our own lives and to do our best to build our own engagement – regardless of what the company is doing.”

The key to doing so, again, is to focus on our strengths. Ask yourself: What do I do really well, and how can I apply that to my job? Then seek ways that you can do so.

“(U)se your areas of strength to hone in on what you naturally do well and apply those strengths in your role every day,” Ken Royal and Susan Sorenson write for Gallup.com. “Strengths can accelerate the development of good work habits and lead to higher engagement. They can also serve as a buffer against stress and negative emotions.”

The bottom line: Everyone gets well when employees are engaged in their jobs.

The key to making that happen is for everyone — employees and managers alike — to understand that employee engagement is their responsibility.

Learn more The Business Learning Institute offers a number of on-demand, customizable programs related to improving employee engagement. Here are just a few of them.


William D. Sheridan