The employees’ engagement is not an HR affair

In her book Everybody Wants to Love their JobMarylène Delbourg-Delphis challenges the Leadership industry: how comes that the level of employees’ engagement is so low and the leadership industry revenues so high? Well, many leaders do not make a clear link between their leadership style and the engagement of their teams. On the contrary, they tend to blame HR people for being unable to sustain motivation and engagement at work:

« The business of leadership is booming. According to Jeffrey Pfeffer, “the leadership enterprise is enormous, with billions of dollars, thousands of books, and hundreds of thousands of blogs and talks focused on improving leaders.” And here is what Pfeffer adds right away: “But what we see worldwide is employee disengagement, high levels of leader turnover and career derailment, and failed leadership development efforts.”[1]

Very few authors tie leadership and disengagement as explicitly, which leads me to ask a simple question: How is it that all this leadership hullabaloo has proven unable to fight off disengagement? How often have you met leaders who placed high employee engagement on their track record? Not very often, I bet. The business of leadership, primarily focused on leaders’ egos, is heavily influenced by the heroic, individualistic mythologies of “If you love me, obey my commands.” But in a world where individuals have choices, they can choose whom they like and whom they follow as frequently as they want.

Employees aren’t whimsical creatures who sometimes feel like being engaged and sometimes don’t. Rather, their engagement depends on how they relate to their work, as we will discuss in section 2, but even before that, on how much they relate to the fundamental spirit of the organization: your organizational blueprint, your leadership, and how you see their own leadership.

The nature of your leadership will condition the breadth and depth of the engagement of your employees. Engagement isn’t an HR affair; it’s first and foremost a result of your management philosophy. As I said before, inherently, HR is neither good nor bad; it reflects what the company’s leadership is about. That’s why visionary HR people increasingly tend to slam the door in the face of traditionalists. What they justifiably reject is an outdated vision of leadership that prevents them from delivering on engagement objectives that they can’t structurally accomplish.

According to Gallup, “organizations must remember that workers view the employer–employee relationship through a different lens than they once did. Employees are less inclined to stay with a job simply because it provides them with a pay check. They signed up for a certain experience, and if they do not get that experience, they are more than willing to look elsewhere. Employees are consumers of the workplace. They are drawn to brands they can connect with. And they stick with—even advocate for—brands that honor their promises.”[2]

And you, what kind of workplace experience do you offer to your teams? How can you work on your leadership style so that they feel more engaged? How can you foster open communication with you employees but also within your teams, make sure that everybody feels included in the team and encourage ideas sharing? These are several development areas recommended by Marylène Delbourg-Delphis. Maybe you can pick one and work on it in the coming weeks!

[1]Jeffrey Pfeffer, Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time, Harper Business, 2015.

[2]State of the American Workplace, Gallup, 2017: http://www.gallup.com/ services/178514/state-american-workplace.aspx.

 

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