In Order to Achieve Engagement, Employers And Workers Must Understand Their Roles

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By Caryn Freeman

Aug. 18 — Employers can't create a culture of engagement until company leaders and employees know what engagement is and understand how to take responsibility for it, Don MacPherson, president of Modern Survey, said in an Aug. 18 webinar sponsored by the Minneapolis-based HR consulting firm.

“Often employers don't recognize that engagement is a two-way street, and employees don't understand their responsibility in keeping up their engagement or even know what engagement is,” he said during “Getting Employees to Own Their Engagement.”

In Modern Survey's “State of Employee Engagement: Spring 2014 Survey,” only half of employees said they understand the concept of employee engagement and only 17 percent said they believe employees are responsible for their own engagement.

HR Is ‘Catalyst for Engagement.'

According to MacPherson, a critical error employers make around engagement is defining HR's role. “Managers often think HR owns engagement, but HR is only the catalyst for engagement,” he said.

Though HR professionals are responsible for employee surveys and own the measurements of engagement, it doesn't mean they understand the drivers of engagement, MacPherson said. “HR's role is to hold leaders accountable by tracking what leaders do as a result of [employee] feedback and to make action plans transparent through the organization,” he said.

Set Expectations Early

MacPherson said that although company leaders drive engagement, it is employees who choose whether to be engaged.

He urged employers to set expectations early, build employee knowledge of what engagement is and show employees how engagement impacts the organization. Then they should have employees and managers talk about individual drivers of engagement and what an employee's personal preferences are around those drivers—be it pay, recognition or other incentives.

“The days of assuming that people will bring their best to work every day are over, so it's more important than ever to set expectations early, even as early as the interview, so employees know what is expected of them,” MacPherson said.

He advised managers to discuss engagement preferences in initial job interviews and with current employees in monthly check-ins. “Ask what engagement means to that individual employee, have them describe what bringing their best to work every day looks like and how they make that happen,” MacPherson said. “Leaders need to know these responses to have high levels of engagement in their organization.”

When employees are psychologically invested in the organization, he said, engagement increases.

Defining Managers' Role

He said the role of managers also is often misunderstood and that managers are responsible for growth, development and giving employees a sense of personal accomplishment. “A big driver of organizational engagement is senior leadership's role in values guiding behavior because that's what motivates employees to be engaged,” MacPherson said. “It is important that leaders are aware of drivers and not only direct managers to improve engagement but also know what their own responsibility is.”

He offered employers a three-step action plan to improve organizational knowledge of engagement:

• Survey employees, then have senior leaders model engaging behavior and show commitment to action planning.

• Hold mid-level leaders accountable for action planning and modeling engaging behavior.

• Make sure every employee in the organization knows what engagement is, what their role is and what the drivers of engagement are.

To contact the reporter on this story: Caryn Freeman in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at