Who Owns Employee Engagement?

Published on March 26, 2013 by

Nationwide CEO Steve Rasmussen was recently interviewed by businessjournal.gallup.com on employee engagement and said, "Engagement is a state of mind. People either are engaged or they're not. You can feel it. I can walk into any company, and I can tell you in 15 minutes whether people are engaged or not just by talking to them. Say hello to them -- you'll know how they feel."

We are at a critical time when it comes to employee engagement. Leaders are saying they need more from their employees--and employees are saying they need more from their leaders. Too many of us are disenchanted and demoralized. CEO leadership adviser Mike Myatt and author of Leadership Matters wrote " I can think of no time in modern history where employees feel less valued and trusted." Ouch! That stings; but it needs to be said. Her'es the full article at Forbes.com: Why Your Organization Suffers From Leadership Dysfunction - Forbes

Last week I talked to a director in a large company about employee engagement. "Linda" has worked hard  to help her eight team members make their work  "work better for them," as she put it.  She's asked them what resources they need but don't have, what she needs to stop doing as a manager, what she needs to start doing and more.

She's asked them if they feel valued and when was the last time they felt challenged in a good way. Wow, what a manager! But guess what--she couldn't get a single one of them to open up, make suggestions or to even complain about anything. I bet you're not entirely surprised.

We don't need the latest polls and research to tell us that we have a long way to go with "employee engagement." When it comes to extraordinary customer service and employee happiness, how many companies come to mind? How about getting it right with either customer service or employee happiness, not necessarily both? The list gets a bit longer: Apple, Southwest Airlines, Walt Disney, Harley Davidson, Google, Starbucks.  I'm sure you could add a few companies--but the list would still be short.

How can this be? Why aren't more companies thriving and why aren't more employees really into their work? And, what can we do?

For starters, let's ask the question, "Who owns employee engagement?" Whose "problem" is it and who is responsible for finding solutions? (Not who's to blame--but who is responsible.)

Is employee engagement the responsibility of "leadership" or is it the responsibility of "employees?" The answer is "Yes"--meaning, employee engagement is the responsibility of both parties. Let's take a look at both sides of the coin:

Employees: If you're not engaged at work, why not? And more importantly, what are you going to do about it?  If you're not excited and fully invested in your work, it's your job to turn that around. Can your manager or company help with that. Yes, and hopefully they do--but in the end, how you feel about your work is up to you.

Leaders: When it comes to having engaged employees, you have to accept full responsibility for what you get or don't get. You (or someone above you) hired everyone on your team. You are responsible for leading, inspiring and coaching everyone on your team. In fact, ultimately, I believe our employee engagement problem is a leadership engagement problem in disguise. (The key word being, "ultimately," not "solely.")

Both Parties: It's time leaders stop blaming employees. It's time employees stop blaming leadership. We're in this together and we need to pull together. Who owns employee engagement? We all do.Whether we are in a group of three, three hundred or three thousand, we all own employee engagement--at least in theory. How about we own it for real?

"All for one and one for all."



  1. Dana

    How true it is that employee engagement (on all levels) is a "both party" responsibility. In some capacities of my job I have the role of the leader, and in others I have the role of employee. But in either role, it is my responsibility to own this, and to be engaged, not for the benefit of the company (although this will be an added bonus), but for the benefit of myself and my professional development. Great post!

    • Alan Allard

      Hey Dana, thanks for stopping by again and for your insights! You make a great point, in the final analysis, each one of us benefits personally by doing whatever we can to create a culture of engagement. Love you blog, by the way--but you know that!

  2. Dan Black

    Great post, the culture and environment all start with the leaders actions, attitude, and behaviors. It's a leaders responsibility to cultivate the right work environment. Great post Alan!

    • Alan Allard

      Thanks for stopping by and for your comment Dan. You are spot on here: "It's a leaders responsibility to cultivate the right work environment." If you have a blog post you would like me to put on my blog, I would welcome it.

      • Dan Black

        I'll try and find one that would be a good match for your site. Have a great weekend.

        • Alan Allard

          I look forward to what you send.

  3. Joseph Lalonde

    Alan, great thoughts on the subject that is often presented as an issue only for leaders. As a leader, we can only go so far. We can give the tools needed to get the job done and to be engaged but if the employees don't grasp onto the vision and tools, the engagement won't happen.

    • Alan Allard

      Hi Joseph--thanks for stopping by and for your comments. I agree with you here: "if the employees don't grasp onto the vision and tools, the engagement won't happen." I often say that companies get the employees they deserve. Leaders enable a culture of dis-engagement when they keep employees who don't really want to be there. No one wins when that happens.

  4. TJ Trent


    Your articles inspired me to research this issue in more depth. Alan, you treat a complex issue in a very easy to understand manner and I appreciate your method.

    As leaders we are responsible for setting the example and setting the conditions. However, in the end some has to want to thrive.

    • Alan Allard

      TJ, I'm glad you are going to do more work in this area, we need more focus on this topic. You are right, in the end, it's up to each one of us to decide if we want to thrive or not.

  5. Vimala

    April 9th 2013

    I came across your post as I was researching to write an article on employee engagement. May I add, that employee engagement is a very individual experience set against a multitude of expectations, both from leaders and employees. We need to pay attention to workplace environment being "right" to nurture engagement. Otherwise, it is yet another buzz phrase.

    • Alan Allard

      I agree with you that employee engagement can easily become another dreaded buzz phrase. That's why employee engagement needs to flow from the top down--the senior leaders have to actually engage everyone in the organization before they can rationally expect others to be engaged. Company culture isn't forged by written mission statements or pronouncements about "Our Values"--it is created and sustained by behaviors from senior leadership. It's not that a small group of "employees" can't effect change--it's that without full support from senior leadership, the impact will be seriously limited.

      Thanks for stopping by and for your comments.

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