Caught in the Employee Engagement Trap?

by Fraser Marlow

Why HR isn’t solely responsible for employee engagement

From recruiting and retention to productivity and profitability, the connection between employee engagement and business results is well established. Through our Top Workplaces research, we’ve identified organizations that achieve employee engagement levels more than double the U.S. average.

But how does employee engagement fit into the executive point of view? And who’s responsible for making it happen?

Your employees: The overlooked metric

For years, senior leaders used the balanced scorecard approach to set goals and measure progress. Most are familiar with the first three metrics: financial performance, quality, and process. But the fourth — perhaps most revealing — metric most often overlooked is employees.

When employees are disengaged, disenfranchised, or undermotivated, even the best business strategy will fall short. That’s why paying attention to  employee metrics is critical:

  • What is your turnover rate?
  • Do your employees have the necessary skills?
  • What is your organization’s engagement rate?
  • What is the level of trust within your organization?

A common trap

Many organizations assume employee engagement is a human resources issue. It gets dumped on the desk of the HR leader and there it stays. That’s not a knock on HR. In practice, it’s impossible for HR alone to impact employee engagement. At least, not without significant executive support.

Accountability is necessary to create a plan, commit to improvements, and lead the organization forward. Top executives, line managers — and eventually every individual — must share the responsibility. HR admittedly has a crucial role to play, but organizations need team leaders on the field making plays. HR’s role is to ensure managers are equipped to expand their role as coaches because great coaches create great teams. And great teams win.

Millennials and other factors

HR leaders are well aware of employment industry trends. They know the war for talent is ongoing and a shortage of skilled labor and those with 21st-century skills continues to be an issue. They understand what people call the Millennial Factor, with millennials now the largest generation in the workforce. It’s a shift that has created new workplace expectations, including greater job changing mobility.

The impact extends beyond millennials to all generations in the workforce. It may have taken older generations some time to adapt to today’s rules, but they have. Now, even tenured employees understand there’s no stigma with changing employers during their careers. They also understand that in today’s work environment, employees can expect feedback, training, and recognition.

As a result, organizations that fail to nurture their culture will struggle with turnover — and an inability to attract top talent.

Perhaps the most critical role for HR is working with senior leadership to build a business case for employee engagement. More than likely, this means converting skeptical leaders or those stuck in survival mode. They may even need to warn against the peril of ignoring engagement, which can endanger the organization’s ability to grow.

A fully engaged workforce has considerable impact, as employees who find their work interesting and relevant often expend discretionary effort to improve business. That’s certainly a return worth investing in — and an opportunity organizations should pursue.