Employee Engagement Isn’t an HR Issue

On March 13, 2017, in China Gorman, HRExaminer, by China Gorman

cartoon drawing of China Gorman on HRExaminer Bio Page

Gallup’s State of the American Workforce report shows we’ve failed to move the needle on employee engagement. We’ve all failed. And pretty spectacularly. Despite this, some companies are getting it right. Could there be a formula that works? China Gorman has more. | China Gorman, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Member

Gallup just published its State of the American Workforce report. I wrote about it in a recent Data Point Tuesday post. As always with these posts, I scratched the surface of the immense amount of fascinating data to be found in the report and highly recommended it for my readers.

Here’s what I didn’t say in the my post: “WAKE UP EMPLOYERS! YOUR EMPLOYEES HAVE ONE FOOT OUT THE DOOR!”

Notice I wrote, “WAKE UP EMPLOYERS!” I didn’t write, “WAKE UP HR!” If your culture is any degree of not human-focused (see this post about Uber), you’ve long since passed the point where HR can make a difference. Nope. Culture isn’t about HR. It’s about the CEO and the C-Suite – and every other leader in the organization.

Here’s the proof:  Gallup collects data annually about the state of employee engagement around the world. The U.S. data over time are extraordinary. And not in a good way. Despite years and years of research – academic and faux, more scholarly articles than can be listed (see HBR, the Economist, etc.), more industry sponsored articles from the likes of SHRM, ATD, HBR, WorldatWork, etc., more industry written white papers (see every HR tech or service provider anywhere in the world), and even some real journalists (if there are any these days) writing about employee engagement; despite billions of dollars spent by employers to measure and improve employee engagement; despite thousands of competitions to measure and rank the top employee-focused cultures in the world – despite all of this attention, the engagement needle hasn’t moved at all. Not. At. All.

2017-03-06 image on hrexaminer of employee engagement sep 2016 by gallup 520x687px.jpg

This graph from the Gallup report, based on millions of data points, shows that despite nearly 20 years of focus, discussion, research, conference presentations (mine included), publishing, and billions (billions!) of dollars spent to improve the basic dynamics of the employer-employee relationship, we’ve failed. We’ve all failed. And pretty spectacularly. Where was GlitchPath when we needed it?

Here’s my position on this issue:  Culture, and the resulting level of employee engagement, isn’t an HR issue, it’s a leadership issue. (Again, see this post written by a female engineer who just left Uber.) Put another way, if HR is the guardian of your culture, good luck with that. And it’s not because HR isn’t capable, smart, strategic and part of the power structure. It’s because HR is only one function. A culture that values its humans and works hard to create an inclusive and engaging environment for every single one of its stakeholders requires everyone’s – C-suite members’, executives’, leaders’, supervisors’, AND EMPLOYEES’ – commitment to value the humanity of its humans. Period.

When we delegate the creation, care and feeding of our organizations’ culture to HR, we’re saying “that’s not my job.” And that’s just wrong. To be clear, culture is everyone’s job. Not just HR. Not just the C-Suite. Not just the senior leadership. And that’s why we’re not getting the job done, as the Gallup data clearly shows.

Are there organizations that get this? You bet! And guess what? They usually outperform their industry peers by every measure – financial, growth, quality, turnover and yes, employee engagement. So it’s a mystery to me why more leaders are not stepping up to the culture imperative. The empirical data are proliferating more and more every day that support this basic formula:

Culture + Employee Engagement = Success

Whether your organization is the size of SAS Institute or the size of Acuity or Dixon Schwabl, creating a humanity-focused culture that engages its employees is doable. It takes leadership, focus, teamwork and commitment. Not easy, to be sure. But between your external market success and your internal talent engagement, you’ll win every battle. But don’t leave it up to HR. Own it at every level. Employee engagement is NOT an HR issue.

 
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  • China! Great post. It inspired me to write my own, and I added a few action items the C-Suite can take to ensure the entire company “owns” culture and employee engagement. I included a quote from you.

    http://youearnedit.com/blog/quit-blaming-hr-for-low-employee-engagement/

    Thanks for the inspiration and advocacy for all of our HR friends!

    Tim Ryan
    @YouEarnedIt

  • Jason Lauritsen

    Great stuff as usual, China. Doesn’t it feel like we just keep having the same conversations about engagement over and over? Lots of effort, not a lot of results if you go by their measure, at least.

    I attended a briefing on the report at Gallup headquarters (since it’s just down the way from my house) a couple weeks ago. The data is really interesting, for sure, but the question that keeps nagging me about their data is whether their measure of engagement is still viable. They’ve been using the Q12 for 30+ years and while I think the foundation of that tool is good and it’s good to have a consistent measure for trending, I question if it’s a complete measure today. They define engagement in terms of discretionary effort, but I’m also wondering if that’s really the goal today when you consider the radical gains in efficiency our organizations have achieved over the past three decades. Do we really need to continue to squeeze for more effort?

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