Recently, I was reminded of one of my early career experiences that was key in forming my views on bottom-up employee engagement. In a previous job, while completing my MSc Occupational Psychology, I studied the impact of various interventions on career decision making self-efficacy and achievement motivation among unemployed young people and their ability to find sustainable employment or training. I recall how self-efficacy became more positive when a young person received individualised support and feedback rather than the usual classroom based ‘job search’ approach. Those with positive self-efficacy were also more likely to endure the pain of the refusals and learn from them.
And, now, here I am advocating an individualised approach to employee engagement. An approach whereby we seek to build employee engagement from the individual level upwards in an organisation. In other words, bottom-up employee engagement.
Those employees receiving individualised feedback on their own engagement levels and supported in action planning are more likely to build a positive efficacy in their organisation. A positive self-efficacy at work will mean these employees are more likely to take ownership and control over how they interact with the workplace.
Why Top-Down Only Engagement Strategies Will Under Achieve
Top-down only engagement strategies, while necessary and positive, carry some flaws. The main problem is that they are usually designed to encompass the organisation and address the key issues highlighted in the annual engagement survey report. This description highlights several key problems:
- The key issues highlighted across the organisation may not be the key issues affecting a particular team or employee
- Actions arising from the annual survey are generally broad approaches, intended to be fair to all, but not touching your disengaged population
- Top down only strategies tend to connect only with already engaged employees and potentially further isolate the disengaged
- They don’t prompt reflection among individual employees nor raise awareness and need to amend own behaviour
Why Bottom Up Employee Engagement is Important
As a result, many disengaged employees greet the published employee survey results with a marked lack of conviction. Why?
- Engagement/Disengagement is a Personal Experience
The key reason is because (dis)engagement is a hugely personal experience. Each individual employee will experience the workplace differently. Each will perceive the events based on their own experiences to date and on their own personal values and beliefs.
High level results presented in the annual survey feedback are unlikely to reflect how each individual employee is feeling.
- Bottom-Up Employee Engagement Starts With the Individual
Because employee engagement is such an individual experience driven in part by personal values and what is important to us in a job, then the solution must also be personalised. It is important that the individual employee receives personalised feedback on what is driving his/her (dis)engagement and has an opportunity to do something about it. With awareness comes the opportunity for change.
- Develop Your Leaders
The top-down strategy should be maintained, even if it isn’t the whole solution. Bottom-up employee engagement works best when blended into a stong corporate engagement strategy. It is crucial that the findings from your engagement survey is mapped to your organisational structure. This means the results can be used to target training and coaching for leaders. It is an accepted truth of employee engagement that the direct line manager is the most significant influence on engagement. So, it stands to reason that a significant focus of the employee engagement strategy rests on developing the required skills in leaders and line managers.
Each line manager should receive individualised feedback on his/her impact on team engagement levels. This should include supported action planning.
- Cultivate the Ground for the Seeds of Engagement
However, equipping the line manager with targeted development is not necessarily enough, especially if team members are already disengaged. There has to be awareness raised on both sides and responsibility for change on both sides. The individual employee needs to be given the tools, techniques and resilience to recognize the need for change and to adapt to it. S/he needs to be empowered to consider his/her own (dis)engagement drivers and to choose how to deal with these.
To deliver bottom-up employee engagement, you must encourage your employees to decide not to shrug their shoulders at corporate efforts to re-engage them. Empower them to consider the strategy and choose to see the good intentions and decide “you know what, there might just be something good for me in there so I will give it a go.”
What are you doing to build engagement from the bottom-up in your organisation so you are not relying on top-down strategies?
Originally published in People Development Magazine