An alternative take on employee engagement this week from leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith, who suggests that companies are missing a trick by only focusing on only one side of the engagement equation.

HR is so busy communicating the values, creating positive management cultures and building reward and recognition programmes that it’s forgotten the vital ingredient – employees themselves.

Engagement, he argues, is a two-way street and organisations need to put more onus on helping employees see they have a personal responsibility to become engaged in their workplace – rather than simply developing initiatives they believe will encourage people to go the extra mile.

It’s an interesting point of view, and one which has stimulated a rich debate on his LinkedIn page. While some agree that engagement comes from within (and regardless of what the business does, some people will only ever go through the motions) – others argue that enthusiasm and discretionary effort will never happen if the right kind of culture is not in place.

“It’s true that creating a great environment is a key factor in building engagement, but we all have the opportunity to take responsibility for our own lives and to do our best to build our own engagement, regardless of what the company is doing,” says Goldsmith.

So what can your business do to actively encourage people to take more responsibility for their own motivation and fulfilment at work?

1. Nudge towards new behaviours

The old psychological contract, where employers provided security and ‘looked after’ employees in return for their efforts, is long gone. But many people are still locked into a mindset of ‘entitlement’. Organisations need to think about what subtle messages and actions they can use to nudge people towards a more even balance between ‘giving’ and ‘receiving’.

There has been much focus in recent years on helping people understand they have responsibility for driving their own careers. Companies now need to help employees make a similar shift towards understanding they are also partly responsible for how engaged or otherwise they are at work.

2. Make it OK for people to speak out

It is rare to find an organisation where people feel free to say what they think (particularly to senior management) without fear of negative consequences. Yet, it is this ability to ‘speak truth to power’ that creates the conditions where people feel a sense of commitment and engagement.

We all have a strong desire to be listened to. If employees know their views are genuinely valued, they will have a sense of buy-in to the business. If, however, they feel speaking out is likely to be career-limiting, they will keep their heads down while quietly looking for another job – or even worse will become passengers, coasting their way through the job and doing just enough to get by.

3. Harness the power of the team

It’s a reality of working life that people are more likely to put themselves out for their colleagues than for the company. Someone is much more likely to go the extra mile out of loyalty to a workmate than through any kind of commitment to the business. So, it makes more sense for HR to invest time in fostering a strong team spirit where people are motivated to support each other. Engagement is catching. If one member of the team is visibly positive and enthusiastic, others are much more likely to follow suit.

4. Focus on individual motivators

We have a tendency to regard motivation in a one-size-fits-all light. The truth, however, is that people are motivated by very different things. One employee may be encouraged to give their all if they can see a big fat bonus at the end of it, while another may be more switched on by challenging work and the ability to learn new things.

If managers want to kick-start employees into taking more responsibility for their own engagement, they need to find ways of tapping into whatever motivates people on an individual basis.

5. Pose challenging questions

In an interview at the recent HR Directors Summit, Marshall Goldsmith suggests organisations could usefully encourage employees to ask themselves six key questions: Do I do my personal best to… set clear goals, make progress towards achieving those goals, find meaning in my work, be happy, build positive relationships and be fully engaged in what I do? If people challenge themselves with these questions, he suggests, there is likely to be a rapid improvement in engagement across the board.

One action to take this week: Is engagement out of kilter in your organisation? Think about what you could do to nudge people to take more responsibility for how engaged they are at work.

Read more about employee engagement here

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.