Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Employee engagement – whose responsibility?

One of the holy Grails and buzz words of our time – motivation and engagement - seems to be a scarce commodity despite all the attention it has received. During the glory days of transformational leadership the four I:s prevailed: Idealized leadership, Inspirational Motivation, Individualized Consideration and Intellectual Stimulation. Those were the times when we still thought that leadership was something of a calling, an important mission that not anyone could be trusted with. 

Today, leadership research is talking about the age of non-charismatic leadership, perhaps also a way of making a virtue out of a necessity. While demands on leaders of today have increased, their authority and status are not what they used to be. They are expected to carry a substantial operational work-load, after all they were chosen because of the working capacity; with the result that they have hardly any time left for staff responsibility-related work. Organizations often expose their leaders to classical double binds: “The human capital is our most important resource” at the same time as pure business activities are always given presidence over HR-related activities and support. Leaders are of course beginning to totter under the burden they are carrying and they are beginning to protest against some of the demands on them. For obvious psychological reasons they seldom protest against demands coming from levels above them but rather against unreasonable demands seemingly coming from employees. We are beginning to hear middle managers asking out loud: Is their engagement and motivation really my responsibility, is it not rather their own?

In all seriousness, who carries the responsibility for employee engagement – individuals, families, private networks, managers, organizations or society? If responsibility is divided, who does what? It is time to demystify employee engagement without diminishing its importance.

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