What would happen if we legislated for employee engagementUntitled

Of course, it’s an absurd question; such legislation could never be enforced anyway, and to try would be a waste of time, energy and paper (and a lot more besides). Agreed! As most reading this will already know, the choice to be engaged at work (or not) rests with every individual and cannot simply be imposed. And if somebody tried, I’d hazard a guess that the next Gallup employee engagement research would show a fast decline in global engagement levels!

But there are key principles in one particular piece of legislation that those of us who are passionate about helping the workforce choose to be more engaged can learn from.

Those of us who believe that high levels of employee engagement are most likely when the needs and priorities of the organisation and the needs and priorities of every employee are aligned and that employees choose whether or not to be engaged every day at work, can learn something from the UK’s so-called HASAWA – the Health and Safety at Work Act. Since 1974, this piece of legislation has been the bedrock of safe working practice in the UK and the principle means for holding companies to account for the safety and health of every employee.

Here’s an extract from the legislation, stating what it requires of every employer:

Section 2. General duties of employers to their employees.

(1) It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees.

It makes perfect sense; of course the employer should ensure that their employees have a working environment that is as a safe as it practically can be. It’s been effective too – Rod Blest reports that “Here in the UK, in 1974, the number of workplace fatalities recorded stood at 651. Figures released by the HSE (for 2012/13) reveal a whopping 77% reduction at 148.”

A 77% reduction in workplace deaths is a brilliant achievement, albeit there are still too many deaths. Thinking about employee engagement, what might a 77% increase  do to productivity, performance and workplace wellbeing? Just imagine what that would look like in your organisation…

To put that into context, what difference would it make if every manager worked along the lines of the principle outlined below:

It shall be the duty of every manager to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the way he/she leads and manages their people every day creates an environment in which every employee will choose to be engaged.

In too many organisations, senior leaders still look at engagement as an annual activity, done once then filed away for another 12 months with no action taken – recent research showed that 98% of CEOs ignored the findings, so it’s no wonder that so few employees are really engaged!

Importantly, the HASAWA doesn’t stop at making demands on managers though. Look at what it requires from employees:

Section 7. General duties of employees at work.

It shall be the duty of every employee while at work—

(a) to take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons who may be affected by his acts or omissions at work; and

(b) as regards any duty or requirement imposed on his employer or any other person by or under any of the relevant statutory provisions, to co-operate with him so far as is necessary to enable that duty or requirement to be performed or complied with.

Safety at work cannot depend on the employer alone; it must be a team effort, and the legislation recognises this. So imagine for a moment how your workplace would change if every employee was committed to something like this:

It shall be the duty of every employee while at work—

(a) to take reasonable steps each day to act in a way that will be beneficial both to their employer, manager and other colleagues, and to ensure that their own behaviour affects others at work in a positive and constructive way; and

(b) to co-operate with his/her manager so far as is necessary to enable objectives to be reached and an effective working environment to be created and sustained.

Without doubt, it’s more complicated that that, but I’m utterly convinced that there is still work to be done is getting employee engagement out of HR teams’ ‘to do’ lists and into the everyday working practice of every employee at every level in (probably) every organisation. Real increases in the employee engagement figures won’t happen until employees choose to be engaged at work, and every manager chooses to be an ‘employee engager’.

Can that be achieved by legislation? Of course not! But if we can begin to change (even only slowly) understanding about what engagement actually is and how to achieve it, then surely that’s a road worth travelling.

 

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