Employee Engagement – Owner Versus Renter Mentality


Oft Asked Question:  Our employees are just not engaged.  What can we do?

This question is one many organizations pose regularly.  Why does leadership care whether employees are engaged?  The lack of engagement costs real money, which negatively impacts the bottom line.

  • Disengaged employees cost U.S. companies between $450-$550 billion a year in lost revenues. (HR Drive)
  • 66% of American workers are not fully engaged in their work. 16% of employees are actively disengaged with another 51% merely showing up – neither engaged nor disengaged.  (Gallup)
  • 53% of Americans are currently unhappy at work. (The Conference Board)
  • One hundred unhappy employees cost companies $390,000 per year in lost productivity. (Kansas State University)
  • Negative employees scare off customers. (Gallup)

Leadership cares about engagement because it costs organizations REAL DOLLARS. The $450-550 BILLION lost annually to lack of commitment is equal to the annual revenues of Walmart or BP and Exxon COMBINED.  Imagine wiping out either of those economic powerhouses!  Leadership worries about employee engagement because of its negative impact on earnings.

HR is often tossed the baton on “fixing” the engagement issue.  While we can and should step up to support efforts to reverse this persistently nasty trend, it seems the time has come to toss the baton into the hands of employees and challenge them to help address their issues. Employees can and should adopt an ownership mentality and decide how they are going to communicate and to whom on what causes unhappiness, lack of engagement, and even lagging productivity.  Human Resources should campaign (and train) for all participants, rank and file, management, and leadership to adopt an ownership mentality.

Employee Engagement

Renter versus Owner Mentality

Now you’re probably asking– how does ownership mentality have anything to do with engagement?  Engagement is the symptom of what lies at the heart of this issue.  Engagement, unhappiness, merely doing a poor job, is reflective of a renter mentality, which ends up costing everyone in countless ways – including individual employees.

What is an ownership mentality?  “Owner employees” take charge, fix what’s broken, reap the benefits of their efforts by honing in on specific objectives. Anyone adopting this empowering self-direction reaps the benefits of contributing, being candid (so leadership doesn’t have to guess at what is causing dissatisfaction), and drives solutions in their work around role definition and expectations.  The critical difference between someone with an owner mentality and someone who shows up as a “renter” is that they invest in improving what irks them.

How do we differentiate between owner and renter employees?  “Renters employees” allow others to define them, detailing what and how they do their job.  S/he does as instructed – completing transactions or tasks as directed. They operate within the “lines” that management lays out for them.  You may wonder: Isn’t this how employees are supposed to do their work?

Think of someone on your team who is highly engaged.  This individual likely asks clarifying questions, drives process improvements for the benefit of the company and the employees.  They offer suggestions and even constructive criticisms.  These employees are star performers.  They come to work and immerse themselves in creating something better for themselves and those around them.  They don’t operate in the box that has been drawn for them.  They “own” their work and how they go about it.

The perfect analogy for the owner/renter comparison is the car you own versus the car you rent.  Your “relationship” with a rented vehicle lasts only as long as your contract stipulates (days or even weeks).  When done driving the rental, one hands back the keys to the agency.  Did you ever take a rental car to a car wash?  Of course not – your “relationship with the car” ends when you return the car and keys.  Compare that to the car you own.  Of course, you invest in maintaining your car.  You change the oil, watch the wear on the tires and occasionally wash it.  You own it – and as such invest in its care.

Whether we are owners with our name on the building or punch a time clock as an employee – both SHOULD be owners of their own lives.  Driving an ownership mentality benefits BOTH company owners and their employees.  Driving ownership mentality may well be the answer to employee dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and disengagement.

Driving Change

So what can Human Resources do to drive an ownership mindset?

First, know this adoption doesn’t happen overnight, and you are, in essence, encouraging employees to break outside of habits they have probably carried with them all their working lives. This transition is a tall task and one that could incite fear, trepidation, and concern in many.  Employees need to be encouraged to grab those opportunities for empowerment, find their voice, and step up to offer perspectives, different and new ways of completing tasks along with receiving the rewards for doing so.

Then work with leadership and management to role model good “ownership thinking” for their employees to observe.  They should debate with their peers, invite criticisms, press for full participation in the process of continuous improvement. Most importantly, it is paramount that they embrace the new way of working, which you are motivating employees to embrace.  Managers will need to grow more comfortable with being challenged, let go of the idea they know “it all” and even embrace the real potential that they will have to modify what they too are doing.

The fantastic aspect of this journey is that ownership mindsets position employees to become part of the solution – no longer disengaged, an unproductive, or unhappy bystander.  Imagine lifting engagement scores and improving the bottom line.   LEARN TO LIVE by owning your life.