Who is responsible for employee engagement?Employee engagement is crucial to the success of any organization. There’s no shortage of available material offering theories, tips, and tidbits on ways that companies and managers can increase employee engagement by following Steps 1, 2, and 3, or implementing Principles A, B, and C. However, this advice is often one-sided and fails to take into account the role of employees. Workplace engagement – not unlike a romantic engagement – is a two-way street. In other words, it takes two to tango.

There are four main areas in which both sides have a role to play in creating employee job satisfaction.

Work Environment

Employee engagement is high in companies that provide the type of environment that fosters creativity, teamwork, and open and honest communication. It’s the company’s job to create this type of work environment. However, the employees can undermine the company’s efforts if they are selfish with their ideas, choose to operate in cliques, and talk about their colleagues behind their backs. To create the type of ideal work environment that results in high job satisfaction rates, both managers and employees have to do their part.

Meaningful Work

Employees tend to be more engaged when they are involved in meaningful work. To a certain degree, it is the company’s job to provide employees with the type of work that they find fulfilling and worthwhile. But realistically speaking, there will always be jobs that the average person may not find fulfilling. However, those jobs still need to be done. What may seem redundant and mind-numbingly boring to one employee may be fulfilling to another employee.

For example, one cashier at Walmart or McDonald’s may consider what they do to be unimportant and meaningless. However, a fellow cashier may enjoy interacting with the public, and take pride in providing an important service to customers. Likewise, one city trash collector may find his job demeaning and unfulfilling, while his coworker may take pride in helping to keep the city’s streets clean.

There may not be much that companies can do to make jobs more meaningful to employees who don’t think that they are. If employees don’t find fulfillment in their roles, it is ultimately their responsibility to find other positions – either with that company or with another organization – that meet these needs.

Training and Competence

The level of comfort and competence that employees feel in their ability to successfully perform their jobs is another engagement factor. It is the company’s responsibility to provide the necessary amount of on-the-job training and instruction – in addition to continuous hard and soft skills training – to ensure that their employers perform at high levels of competence. However, employees must take advantage of these training opportunities and commit to learn everything that they can about their jobs if they plan to be successful at them. An employee who does not embrace training and education will subsequently be a poor performer, which leads to uncertainty and possibly disciplinary action. And this undoubtedly leads to disengagement.

Decision-Making and Freedom of Choice

Employees who have some degree of control over their work and can provide input in the decision-making process are more engaged than those who operate in a command-and-control environment. When employees are competent and have shown good judgment in the past, it is advantageous for companies to provide them with more autonomy regarding how they perform their jobs. On the other hand, there are limits to this freedom. For example, if every American company allowed its workers to arrive at work, go to lunch, and leave at their discretion, how many workers might decide that they only need to work 2 to 3 hours a day? How many might reach the conclusion that the way to provide the best customer service is to only let 5 customers in the store at one time? How many might decide that the ringing phones are a distraction, and decide to unplug them?

Companies are often criticized for being too heavy-handed with their employees – and many of them are – but, on the other side, there are numerous stories of employees who don’t perform up to task when left to their own devices. Case in point…how many times have you been in the only open checkout lane at a store while several cashiers were standing around talking and appeared to be oblivious to the fact that there was only one lane open? And then a manager shows up and everyone scurries away to man his or her register.

Even though more freedom in the decision-making process might lead to higher job satisfaction rates, the results could be disastrous.

Yes, we expect companies to do everything within their power to create an environment in which employees feel engaged. But, there’s only so much that a company can do – while maintaining order and using sound business sense. Every employee can’t telecommute, take 2-hour lunches, or bring their kids to work with them. Every company can’t have a free gym or cafeteria on the ground level, or let employees leave early for every game during football/basketball/baseball season.

Ultimately, it is up to employees to weigh the pros and cons of working for a company -being realistic about the aspects that are not likely to change – and then decide if they would be satisfied working in that environment. Or not.

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Terri Williams

Terri Williams began writing professionally in 1997, working with a large nonprofit organization. Her business, education, and lifestyle articles have appeared in various online publications including Yahoo, USA Today, The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News & World Report University Directory, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago. Williams has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.