It's Not Just About the Bagels: Building Employee Engagement (Pt. 3) The Employee in Employee Engagement

08/20/2014 10:04 am ET Updated Oct 20, 2014

Normally I am not one to attend reunions. I find them somewhat depressing and I feel in some way I have moved on so why be dragged back into the past. However when I received a recent Facebook invite from a former coworker who was organizing a small group get-together, on a Saturday night at a local Korea town restaurant in New York City, I said why not.

We sat and chatted about our experiences over kimchi and bulgogi. The irony could not be lost on me as I savored the delicious Korean fare noting that we had worked for a Korean company.

I am firmly of the belief that we can learn from every experience, good or bad and this experience was no different. We were each pushed hard at the company. For me it was challenging but offered a world of opportunity. It was with this company that I visited China for the first time, and many times after that, to develop the human resources function at the three manufacturing plants we operated. So for me it is difficult to say bad things about the company when I learned so much. However for others they didn't see the value in their experience.

The very phrase "employee engagement" is nothing without the employee. We are all employees, and at times it's easier to blame the employer for our woes without taking a look in the mirror. I've worked with many employees who thought the grass was greener elsewhere. They felt their negativity was as a result of their current organization and what they perceived as a bad environment, etc. But guess what...a lot of it starts with the employee. I am reminded of the phrase "When you point a finger at someone else, remember there are three fingers pointing back at you."

I recall this one employee at one of my companies who was always out sick. He would complain about the company at every chance. Finally the day came when he resigned and couldn't be happier. He made it a point to smear all of his coworkers as he left. I knew the Company he was headed to and I knew it was a tough environment. While I wished that employee well, I knew that if he didn't change his ways he would last six months. Guess what, he made it to three months before being let go.

In my years of experience I have found one constant, that whether it is your organization or another, these individuals will never be fully engaged, will never be happy. Again, their perspective is on placing blame elsewhere whether it's the company or manager, without taking that same critical approach to themselves. They find something, anything, which the company has done and then proceed to complain about it, often trying to enlist others around them into that same pattern of thinking. I admit early on I spent a lot of time focusing on these employees with very little positive results. At some point I decided to instead concentrate on the majority of people who appreciate rather than this small minority who will always be dissatisfied.

Your perspective will determine your reality.

In 2002, Timothy A. Judge at the time a professor from the University of Florida along with two other professors from the University of Iowa researched the 5-factor model of personality to overall job satisfaction. The five factors included neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Their studies indicated that an individual's rating on neuroticism, extraversion, and conscientiousness have a reasonable correlation with job satisfaction.

As our small reunion continued to chat and eat, I realized we had differing feelings about our experiences which could be attributable to the 5-factor model. So while HR and managers develop programs and measure engagement remember there will always be that small percentage of employees reflected as unengaged through no fault of the company or your efforts but just because it's in their nature.