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Who “owns” employee engagement anyway?

Posted by Hannah Price | 5 min read

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Please put your hand up if you know who is responsible for employee engagement in your workplace.

The chances are, you don’t. (You can put your hand down.) And that’s not because you’re ill-informed, it’s because nobody is actually responsible for it.

While most organizations want to improve employee loyalty and employee engagement, they often fail to appoint this task to a person or team. Instead, the responsibility gets passed from one department to the next, while disengagement spreads.

If you want to get serious about improving employee engagement, it’s time to put the right people and a clear strategy in place. This article will take a closer look at how to do that.

Unclear employee engagement roles and responsibilities

Before we start remedying the issues, let’s clarify the problematic employee engagement approach I just touched on.

Currently, the efforts to improve employee engagement are terribly siloed in many organizations. There are generally at least four different parties involved, each working in isolation and never taking full ownership of improving employee engagement.

It often looks something like this:

  • C-Suite: The C-Suite are obviously invested in seeing the whole company succeed and seeing employee engagement rise. However, they often fixate on the engagement score that came out of the latest employee survey but don’t have the time or knowledge to bring about a change.
  • HR: If there’s a team that the C-Suite does call on to make improvements to employee engagement, it’s often HR. They’re told employee engagement is their problem, but they don’t have the knowledge or the right tools to tackle it. Worse still, they lack the authority and respect that leaders have, so their efforts are so much harder to propagate. (They’re also very busy putting out their own HR fires.)
  • Communications: These guys are often good with words, people, and presenting information. They tend to get pulled into the mix - either to help improve employee engagement from the ground up, or simply to package up messages and turn them into pretty newsletters.
  • IT: We can’t forget the IT folks. They’re often pulled in to find employee engagement software. Employee engagement is not traditionally in their wheelhouse and they’re not fully informed by the C-suite, but they’re expected to find the right tool nonetheless.

As you can see, the issue of employee engagement tends to get passed from group to group, breaking up into a number of disjointed, non-priority tasks along the way. Very little is achieved, employees continue to feel neglected, and engagement rates suffer.

Who should be responsible for employee engagement?

Wholesale changes are in order if organizations want to seriously address employee engagement issues, and the first step in making these changes is looking at ownership.

Employee engagement generally doesn’t belong to one person in an organization. It’s often a team effort, comprised of the four groups mentioned in the previous section. That’s right - you’ve probably got the right people around, but they’re not working collectively.

These groups need to stop working in isolation. They need to come together and work as one united team, each taking ownership of their role in the project and bringing their unique strengths and expertise.

How do you divide employee engagement responsibilities?

How each organization decides to address employee engagement will depend on a myriad of things—size, industry, culture, and the individuals that make up that company. That’s why it’s so hard to give a blanket solution to employee engagement (which is why it’s so infamously tricky).

However, if you’re suffering from poor employee engagement, you should do something. As Gallup so aptly stated: “The one thing leaders cannot do is nothing.”

  • Leaders
    This is where it generally starts: leaders. Like most business initiatives, it begins at the top. People take their cues from leaders, especially the CEO. (Here’s a great article on why your CEO is also your Chief Culture Officer.)
    It doesn’t matter if your leader is the one to discover your employee engagement problem or if someone took the issue to them. What matters is the role the leader plays in building and sustaining a culture of employee engagement.
    They should be a part of any employee engagement ideas that you decide to put into practice. If you get a new communications tool, they should use it and be an online advocate. If you start hot-desking to encourage mingling, they should be openly moving around.
    No matter what approach you take to improving your engagement, communication, and culture, your leader should be present, supportive, and active.

  • Ambassadors
    Unless your organization is small, it’s unlikely your leader will be able to own employee engagement completely. They can champion it, but there may need to be more supporting characters: ambassadors.
    These ambassadors are there to lend support for initiatives, bring creative ideas, and perform administrative tasks that leaders don’t have time to complete. Real life examples of this include the people who make up social committees, or committees that manage your communications platform.

    In our experience, it’s best if these teams of ambassadors are made up of cross-section of people from your organization. That way you’ll get a more diverse mix of ideas and different teams will feel represented.

  • Techies
    As technology continues to boom, there are a growing number of software solutions for workplace problems. Employee engagement is one of these.
    If you’re interested in pursuing employee engagement software then it’s worth getting someone from IT involved. Not only will they help you get everything up and running, they’ll be a useful resource when you shop around. They’ll be able to understand how much time and money it will cost you to both launch and sustain a platform.
    However, don’t expect them to handle the entire project on their own. It’s important that you communicate your goals with them so they know what you’re looking for. That way you’re more likely to find a tool that truly meets your needs.

Conclusion

Improving employee engagement rates may be tricky, but you can make it easier on yourself by declaratively stating who should be involved, what they should do, and giving them the resources they need.

By establishing a team in this way, you’ll break down silos in information and avoid unfocused efforts. Your approach will be more effective and have a far higher chance of success!

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