Keeping the People Report
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E-Letter Volume 28, April 2013
Leigh Branham  

Who Keeps You Engaged?

With all the blogs, articles, books, tweets, conferences, webinars, and seminars on employee engagement that have proliferated to new orders of magnitude in recent months, there is one aspect that is receiving relatively little attention--holding employees responsible for keeping themselves engaged.

Most of the emphasis and onus has been placed on the responsibility of leaders and managers to keep their employees engaged. The obvious truth is that both managers and employees share responsibility for engagement. The problems is that some managers seem to think it's solely the employee's responsibility and some employees seem to have gotten the idea that it's solely the manager's responsibility. It's the old conundrum of everybody's responsibility being nobody's responsibility.

My concern is that many employers have placed so much pressure on managers to increase staff engagement that their employees are receiving the unintended message that it's somehow permissible for them to passively wait to be motivated. With only about 25% of the U.S. workforce engaged, according to Gallup, we certainly don't need more of this mentality. Another concern is that some leaders in some companies have been wrong-headedly using engagement survey results as a cudgel, blaming workers to "get more engaged, or else."

Of course, the case for manager's having primary responsibility for engagement has been eloquently made by none other than Peter Drucker, who many believe was the greatest management thinker of the 20th century: “The productivity of work is not the responsibility of the worker, but of the manager.” The highly-respected authority on performance management, Ferdinand Fournies, put it in even stronger terms: "If you truly believe your primary purpose as a manager is to do everything possible to help your employees succeed, you are acknowledging that each time an employee fails, it is one of your failures.”

So how do we simultaneously get this powerful message across to managers while also clearly communicating to employees that keeping themselves engaged is equally imperative?

I believe it begins with understanding the drivers of employee engagement, then making clear to managers and employees alike what behavior we expect. For example, if we expect managers to give frequent feedback, we must also challenge employees to ask for feedback when they need it. If we expect managers to manage team conflict, we must also expect employees to communicate assertively and not tolerate speaking behind each others' backs. If we want managers to provide career coaching to direct reports, we need to let the direct reports know that they are responsible for managing their own careers. If we expect managers to seek employee input, we should challenge employees to come forward with their ideas and opinions. And if we ask managers to manage employees' workloads equitably, we must also challenge employees to manage their time more effectively.

Let's also not lose sight of the fact that managers and senior leaders are employees, too and that, as the role models they are, keeping all employees engaged begins with keeping themselves engaged. In the best places to work, everyone understands that everyone is responsible for employee engagement.

Recently, I was contacted by a Fortune 50 company that has been conducting employee engagement surveys for years and holding managers accountable for following up by acting on the survey results. But the one thing they had not done, was figure out a way to measure employee self-engagement. One of their HR managers happened to have read Re-Engage, the book Mark Hirschfeld and I authored in 2010 describing the six universal drivers of employee engagement. He had especially liked the chapter on employee self-engagement and the availability on our website ( of our free 42-item employee self-engagement survey. We are delighted to report that the company now plans to make the survey available to its employees on a special internal site. After taking the survey, employees will be directed to specific actions they need to take more responsibility for their own engagement.

These are the kinds of steps that more companies need to be taking if they want their employee engagement initiatives to be balanced and effective. I'd be interested in knowing what initiatives your company is taking to make sure employees know what's expected when it comes to keeping themselves engaged.


2nd Edition, The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave

Updated based on new post-exit third-party surveys from more than 1,000 respondents


The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave:
How to Recognize the Subtle Signs and Act Before It's Too Late,

by Leigh Branham (AMACOM Books, 2012).


Re-Engage: How America’s Best Places to Work Inspire Extra Effort in Extraordinary Times,
by Leigh Branham and Mark Hirschfeld (McGraw-Hill, 2010).

Keeping the People, Inc. helps organizations link employer-of-choice strategies with business strategies, conduct third-party post-exit interviews and surveys, conduct engagement surveys with current employees, and provides the management coaching and training needed to implement those strategies.

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Keeping the People Report

For information about any of the following offerings:

  • Employee Engagement Surveying and Reporting
  • Management Training in Employee Engagement
  • Self-Engagement Workshops for Employees
  • Exit Surveying and Reporting
  • Keynotes and Presentations on Employee Engagement and Retention

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Copyright, Keeping the People, Inc. 2013. Keeping the People Report is written and edited by Leigh Branham.