Engagement vies for the top spot each year amongst leaders’ worries and concerns. And, for good reason! In spite of twenty-plus years of research, and millions of dollars of too-often-failed solutions, employee engagement remains the elusive problem to fix, nut to crack, and silver bullet to find. While some organizations have made improvements, overall engagement remains frightening low, even though there has been a concerted focus on this troubling challenge for the past two decades.

Most people generally agree on the definition of engagement being something like, “the degree to which individuals are motivated, committed, and energized by their work.” And, if you’ve done any reading on the subject, you are also likely aware that much of the current research attends to environmental factors that increase the likelihood of engagement across organizations when they are present.[1] Factors such as leadership/management involvement, having a best friend at work, employee recognition, or balancing the demands of the job with available resources.

Of all the environmental factors, engagement is believed to be mostly influenced by management and consequently is often assigned to HR to fix. The typical HR solutions include such things as periodic, regular engagement surveys to measure success at shifting organizational culture, implementing work-flex solutions, creating a compelling employee value proposition, and holding managers accountable for engagement, to name a few. As you can see from this list, and from your own experience, engagement is most often focused on organizational-oriented solutions, particularly those that are influenced by and focused on leaders.

Rarely, if ever, does a question arise around the responsibility of the individual employee to create purposeful energy, enthusiasm, and commitment to his/her own work. In fact, in one interesting survey of a random sample of 1,000 U.S. workers, only 17% of respondents felt that the employee was most responsible for his/her own engagement.[2] However, given that you spend most of your waking hours at work, then shouldn’t the degree to which you feel energized, engaged and motivated matter to you as an employee? Wouldn’t your engagement in your work have some effect on your life? Of course it would, and it does! Which is one reason solving the engagement challenge matters to everyone, not just leaders or organizations.

Engagement at work does benefit the team and organization, but it also benefits the individual in his/her personal life as well as on the job. This is particularly true given that engagement is about living and working in ways that feel joyful. Engagement requires that individuals make the choice to engage and to live and work in ways that feel joyful. It doesn’t just happen by accident. And it doesn’t happen without individual input.

Thinking this way suggests that it is highly likely that we may have been looking too much in the wrong direction for the solution to low engagement. It suggests that organizations cannot fix it alone and that the individual needs to be more involved if we are to crack the code for creating and sustaining high levels of engagement. Indeed, individuals and organizations have co-responsibility for creating the conditions needed for individuals to act from high energy, extra-mile effort, and with full commitment.

When individuals understand and take responsibility for their own unique internal factors, and organizations work with individuals to take shared responsibility for the external factors, the engagement equation is primed to shift dramatically. At People Acuity, we firmly believe that engagement is first, a personal responsibility, and secondarily, a shared/team responsibility. High engagement is best achieved through Interdependence, connection to three levels of purpose (Relational, Work/Role, Situational) and through the effective use of Strengths Strategy® to energize self and others. Until individuals and organizations recognize and accept this joint responsibility and the necessary inputs for high engagement, the “engagement problem” will continue to plague organizations and leaders.

For more information about how to create an engagement strategy with the individual at the core, request a consultation with one of our strategists by emailing info@peopleacuity.com.

NOTE: this blog was written by DeAnna Murphy, Lisa Gregory, and Steve Jeffs, the People Acuity thought leader team.

DeAnna Murphy, a 23-year organizational development veteran and CEO of People Acuity, has led the 7-year research process with the People Acuity Analytics team. It has involved over 10,000 individuals around the globe participating in original qualitative and quantitative research, exploration of over 1,000 academic and practitioner articles, top-rated marketing reports, and analysis of 200 of the best-selling books in leadership, self-help, business, and psychology. People Acuity, an affiliate of Strengths Strategy, is in 31 countries, and includes over 300 practitioners across the globe.

Lisa Gregory is a thought leader and Manager of Product Development and Delivery at People Acuity. With 17 years of business experience as a trainer, coach, advisor, entrepreneur and corporate leader, Lisa has extensive experience in learning and development, at both strategic and implementation levels. She has worked with leaders in 80 percent of the Fortune 500 and Global 1000 companies and has broad and deep knowledge of the challenges facing top executives, employees, and managers as they strive to bring their best to an organization and to their own lives.

Steve Jeffs is the Chief Scientist, Senior Faculty and is co-leading the international expansion of People Acuity. Integral to the People Acuity Analytics team, Steve recently presented the validation of our Foundations of Interdependent Teams Scale at the World Congress of Positive Psychology. He is a registered Psychologist, multi-award winning Executive Coach, energetic facilitator and scientist. Fascinated by interdependence and synergy, Steve is completing his Doctorate in this field, and applies this learning, consulting with organizations and in Executive Coaching with Senior Organizational Leaders around the world. Steve lives in Dubai, UAE, and operates globally.

[1] John Vogelsang, Maya Townsend, Matt Minahan, David Jamieson, Judy Vogel, Annie Viets, Cathy Royal, Lynne Valek.  Handbook for Strategic HR. Employee Engagement. The Organizational Development Network. 2013.

[2] Paul Thoresen.  Employee Engagement: Yours, Mind, and Ours.  LinkedIn. April 30, 2014.