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Ask the question “Who is ultimately responsible for employee engagement?” and you will be met with an avalanche of opinions. Managers are the natural answer, which makes perfect sense given their leadership roles, but it’s easy to see how employees must have the right mindset and attitude for it all to work properly. So when and where does the buck actually stop?

It doesn’t really stop at all. Nobody can “ultimately” be responsible for employee engagement, just as nobody can be “ultimately” responsible for another person’s happiness. In a webinar my company hosted on the topic, we found that people’s personal criteria for happiness are of limitless variety and can change day-to-day. It’s unfair to ask managers to become expert predictors of employee happiness, just as it’s unfair to ask employees to work without feedback regarding their own.

But surely we can all make a fair effort to talk more openly about what’s causing unhappiness in the workplace. In other words, stop assigning responsibility and blame for engagement and start doing the simple things that are proven to enable it. This doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are a few examples:

  • Weekly touch-bases – Even if it’s a short conversation at someone’s desk, always make a point to take some regular time and find out what’s going on with your employees, not just at work, but at home and in their lives. Sometimes just talking about stressors and releasing some steam is all a person needs to feel reinvigorated.
  • Change the routine – No matter how fulfilling, exciting, and varied our work may be, most jobs have inevitable grinding phases where we won’t be excited or interested in what we are doing. Both employees and managers should be aware of this and actively try to mix things up with new break schedules, workplace celebrations, after-work outings, anything to break the monotony.
  • Suggestion boxes – Suggestion boxes have been around for a long time because they are a great workplace equalizer. There might be one little bothersome thing that nobody brings up because it seems like more trouble than it’s worth. The anonymity helps bring those types of issues forward more.

These types of things really work to get people talking about their personal challenges and work-related stress, and you just have to keep it up. Our personal happiness and satisfaction is like a wave that is always churning, moving up and down, constantly seeking equilibrium. Sometimes people have to ride the low parts out before they can get balanced again, and they need someone to really listen. The second you start to decide who’s responsible, you lose respect for that.