Employee Engagement Is An Employee’s Job Too

Theshoe My older sister graduated from THE Ohio State University a few years back (I won’t say how many – okay 36 – remember she’s my OLDER sister.)  Our family went to the graduation in the famed Horseshoe.  It was a mad house.

For some reason, the thing I remember most vividly was the first line from one of the speakers (I think he was the school Prez but not sure.)


“We both have a job to do here today.  I am delivering a speech.  You are listening.  If you finish your job before me please, be patient and polite, and wait for me to finish my job.”


I don’t know many things I heard 36 years ago that stuck with me – but that did.  At first, I thought it was an excuse to be boring – and to put the onus on me – the audience – to make it seem bearable.  But the years that have rolled by since have given me a different perspective, and it is one that I think translates into talent management and employee engagement.

Managers Are Only 1/2 the Equation

I’ve railed on my own site and in some of my posts here that managers are the real levers for employee engagement and performance.  I still believe that.  Something – someone – has to get the ball rolling and managers are the perfect place for it to start. But…

Employees have a job to do as well.  Just like the opening line of the speech, managers have a job AND employees have a job – if they want to truly impact engagement, satisfaction, retention, etc.

I think we give employees a pass way too often with respect to their role in engagement.  We talk about the things companies have to do – (massages, 401k match, day care, fitness centers, time to pursue your muse) but we don’t really talk about the things employees have to do (or am I reading the wrong blogs?) Employees have to take co-ownership of the process.  They have a role and a very, very important one.

Specifically, employees have to:

  • Speak up – You can’t hide your dissatisfaction under a rock and expect managers to read your mind.
  • Reciprocate – Employees cannot take the perks and benefits offered by the company and not return the favor.  Work a bit harder; spend 10 extra minutes proofing that email, checking your figures, or reading a blog in your area of expertise.
  • Bring an idea to the table – Bosses aren’t the only ones who should be thinking about the business.  Your job is to do the business AND think about the business.  When was the last time you prepared an idea to increase sales, decrease costs, drive engagement, whatever.  You owe your employer your thinking.  What are you thinking about during your massage anyway?
  • Talk positively about something in the company – I know there are probably more things that tick you off than make you happy but, do you focus on the negative many or the positive few? Focus on the positive and you’ll find that there are more positives than you initially thought.  Be a positive virus – not a negative one.
  • Recruit – Yeah – take the time to look for people you think can help the company and bring them in.  You are the best recruiter there is – believe me – you know who will fit in and what the company needs.

Entitlement Mentality and Fear

The economy is tough and companies are a little scared that once it improves they’ll lose some good people.  Unfortunately, as a manager or as a company – if you spend too much time creating “engagement” strategies to keep employees, without asking for something in return, you foster an entitlement mentality. Your employees can smell that fear.  And they just might take advantage of it.

If you’re a manager – balance the scales.

If you’re an “employee” (aren’t we all) – balance the scales.

FOT Background Check

Paul Hebert
Paul Hebert is the Senior Director of Solutions Architecture at Creative Group Inc and a writer, speaker and consultant. Paul focuses on influencing behaviors and driving business results through employees, channel partners and consumers. Over the course of his career, Paul has worked closely with clients to design influence, marketing, motivation, incentive, loyalty, recognition and reward programs to increase effectiveness and reduce costs. Paul is a recognized authority on incentives and performance motivation. Want to know what’s going to motivate your people to perform at their best and impact the bottom line? Want to know whether your service award program really means anything at all? Curious what psychological principles drive sales behavior? Paul’s your guy… unless you fervently bow down to Maslow. Check out his personal blog at "What Is Paul Thinking?" when you're tired of his FOT rants.


  1. Traceynolte says:

    Great post! I totally agree that some employees don’t own or even expand the role they are given. This post inspires me to lessen the complaints and increase offered solutions. Thanks!

  2. Katy says:

    Wonderful post, Paul! My first boss told me that when you have a problem as an employee, it’s your responsibility to do 2 things – 1) come up with at least 2 potential solutions and 2) bring them to your boss. It’s the ownership of coming up with some options for solutions that I think many employees often forget. Great reminder!

  3. Johnnie Tate says:

    This is such a good post. Glad you added the ‘entitlement’ mindest at the end.

  4. I like the post which deals with the descriptive scene of the employee’s engagement with the boss area.There are many things which comes in the coordination relation with your head in the company.The boss wants full satisfaction from the each employee corner and as the needs fulfils the organisation.This post inspires me to lessen the complaints and increase offered solutions.There are many things yet to be discussed that economy crisis and fear of unemployment which is also one point of engagement.

  5. Ana says:

    I’ve found many of the employees don’t speak up due to fear. I’ve seen great employees not only identify a problem but have many solutions. Only to have a manager shoot them down because 1) they were not very confident in their ability as a manager 2) they were absolutely comfortable with the way things were.
    It’s really sad but in today’s economy I see even more people keeping their mouths shut for fear the company might off them in the next “round” of lay offs.

  6. Paul Hebert says:

    Thanks for the comments. Ana – your comment is a great one – no amount of effort on the part of an employee will be helpful if the manager creates an environment where bringing up new ideas is seen as a criticism of the manager versus a desire to make things better.
    Small minds breed small efforts.
    Unfortunately, it’s during these tough times when new ideas are critical for growth and survival and when managers should be encouraging that type of effort not making it harder.
    I could wax poetic on how to bring up ideas so they don’t threaten the manager but in the end – bad managers won’t allow good employees to thrive. Facts are facts … sad.

  7. Great post, Paul. This question of who’s responsible for engagement is important to understand if you intend to influence employee engagement in your company at any level. I believe the company (management, leadership, HR, everyone) is responsible for creating an environment in which employees want to engage – one in which employees know what is expected of them, understand how those expectations help the company succeed, and are encouraged to recognize and appreciate achievement of their peers and subordinates in delivering those expectations.
    And then I believe employees are responsible for taking advantage of just such an environment. I know I do. At some point, unhappy employees have to look around at their colleagues to see if their experience is universal or if they need to look in the mirror to find the real source of their unhappiness.

  8. Paul Hebert says:

    Derek – spot on. I think sometimes we communicate – unwittingly – that employee engagement is ONLY management’s responsibility. They do have a pivotal role in creating the environment – but as you point out – employees need to take advantage of it – or move on.
    Thanks for continuing to dialog with us FOTers

  9. Jenifer Mercer-Klimowski says:

    I realize your perspective is the workplace, but the concept of “engagement” applies to so many other areas of life. Consider the recent firing of the teachers in Rhode Island: the best, most dedicated, engaging and exciting teachers in the world will fail, if their students are neither equipped to learn nor engaged in the learning process.

  10. Good points, Paul. You are right on the money with this post. It takes two to tango in the engagement dance.

  11. Chris Young says:

    Outstanding post Paul! It is so easy to get caught up in thinking that it is all up to the employer to engage its workforce and totally forget that employees have a responsibility too.
    I especially like your point that employees need to speak up and cannot hide their dissatisfaction and expect their manager to figure it out. However, the organization must create a work environment where the employee feels safe in doing so.
    Engagement is definately a two way street!
    I’ve shared your post in my weekly Rainmaker ‘Fab Five’ blog picks of the week (found here: http://www.maximizepossibility.com/employee_retention/2010/03/the-rainmaker-fab-five-blog-picks-of-the-week.html) to help my readers think about this issue in a new light.
    Be well!
    Chris Young

  12. Paul Hebert says:

    Thanks for the comment and including in your roundup. For those wanting to get to Chris’s site – I noticed the html link in his comment included the closing parenthesis so the link doesn’t work.
    The correct link is:

  13. OrtizIrene25 says:

    People deserve good life and loan or just financial loan would make it better. Just because freedom relies on money state.

Trackbacks for this post

  1. Is Management The Sole Responsible for Employee Engagement? Hppy Blog

Comments are now closed for this article.

Contact Us | Hire FOT to Speak | About FOT