May 16, 2019

Myth #2 – Increasing Engagement is my HR Departments Job


This is part 3 of our series titled, America’s Engagement Epidemic.
To read part 1, click here. To read part 2 click here.

The very first Human Resource department, or what was at the time called “Personnel Management” was born during the Second Industrial Revolution in the early 1900’s.  During this time, the United States Economy saw the expansion of industries such as electricity, petroleum and steel. The new capacity in each of these industries fundamentally changed forever how traditional work was done. The accessibility of electricity allowed individuals to work non-traditional hours and many traditional products and processes were replaced with more convenient and less expensive ones.

While the economy was booming, this was not a favorable time for workers in these industries. Many of these jobs were low wage, they worked long hours and often in very dangerous conditions. Because of this, trade sector labor organizations and unions begin to form to advocate for workers rights. No other text captures some of the nature of work at this time more than Upton Sinclair’s seminal work, “The Jungle”, published in 1906.

These new departments that were formed were largely compliance-based and focused on record keeping, workplace safety, wage management, and employee grievances. They also worked on relations with unions and trade sector groups.

Since this point forward, the set of roles and responsibilities that are associated with a Human Resource department has grown extensively. Google any job description for a Human Resource Manager and you will find some of these tasks listed:

  • Creating and maintaining job descriptions

  • Recruiting, interviewing, hiring, exit interviews

  • Employee orientation and training programs

  • Performance management systems

  • Organizational design and change management

  • Compensation and benefits

  • Ensuring legal compliance with employment law

  • Maintaining safety and risk management

  • Maintaining labor relations

  • Conducting investigations; maintaining records; representing the organization at hearings

  • Preparing, updating, and recommending human resource policies and procedures

  • Maintains historical human resource records

  As if the job wasn’t already all-encompassing, many organizations now want to add, “Employee Engagement” to the list of duties the Human Resource department is responsible for.

One of the most common myths we see organizations entertain is the idea that increasing employee engagement is somehow solely the job of the HR department or a single individual within the organization. It is true that in partnership with other departments, a progressive Human Resource department can affect engagement across an organization. However, the data proves that engagement won’t increase by simply having an HR department.


In fact, the larger the company,  the lower the engagement level. Simply put, organizations with very large and developed HR departments are actually experiencing lower levels of engagement across their workforce. According to Gallup, “From 2012 to 2016, the engagement of small companies grew by five percentage points, while the engagement of other companies barely budged or even diminished.” As organizations grow, there is a greater likelihood for misalignment, lack of trust, and disintegration of a strong internal culture.

It is clear that if we are going to solve the issue of engagement in the workforce, we cannot continue to think that our HR department will take care of it.

So who’s job is it?

In short, all of ours.

It is easy for us to blame the leaders and managers within an organization, but in reality, we all have a part to play. Here are a few suggestions for us all to think about.

1. Owners / Executive leaders – As the primary leader of the organization, you can help your organizations engagement by creating and communicating a compelling vision of the future. This vision needs to be rooted in data, and make sure that it has a focus on investing in growing the people of your organization. As the primary leader, you are responsible for managing change, aligning your vision for the future with strategy and data, and gaining buy-in from all members of your organization. Most importantly, you need to model the behaviors of engagement you would like to see from managers and employees.

2. Managers – As the individuals with the most communication and collaboration with each individual employee, it is your role to pay attention to the engagement needs within an organization. The single greatest shift you can make to help your organizations engagement is to re-imagine your role as a coach, not a boss. When managers increase their frequency of collaborative meaningful conversations with each person they manage, engagement skyrockets.

3. Employees – The single greatest impact you can make to the engagement of your organization is to own your engagement. It is your responsibility to accurately assess your own level of engagement, advocate for your needs, and focus on becoming more engaged, not the opposite. If every employee in an organization can focus on growing their own personal engagement, our teams and organizations will thrive.

If we are going to truly understand the challenge of engagement in the workforce, we are going to have to look much deeper than generational differences or point fingers at our HR departments. We must all take responsibility to understand and address the complexity of America’s Engagement Epidemic.

Join us next week to discuss our third myth about America’s Engagement Epidemic.

If you want to discuss these ideas in more detail, reach out for a conversation!