Disengagement. is it always the leader’s fault?

I grabbed supper at Quizno’s a few days ago and saw two of the most disengaged employees I have ever seen. In the half hour I was there, they took two smoke breaks, in uniform, right in front of the door. We barely got greeted. The floors were filthy. The tables were dirty. they left a full garbage bag outside the front door. The parking stalls in front had bottles laying in them. The chairs were all upside down on all the tables, 1.5 hours before closing. The counters were in disarray. Thankfully, our subs were great, but as I sat there, I thought “these are two disengaged employees.” But then I began wondering whose fault that disengagement is.

If we fully believe Gallup’s research on engagement, we would think that a) this is fully the manager’s fault, and b) if we somehow found a way to engage these employees, then everything else would fix itself.

But where does employee responsibility fit in? It’s fun to just blame management for everything, but have we progressed too far in our focus on leadership to always blame the leaders for disengagement? These two employees have choices to make. They chose that day to do very little work, to ignore common hygiene practices, to violate local bylaws by smoking in front of the door, to ignore the customers, and to not make our customer experience “engaging”. Shouldn’t they shoulder the responsibility for their actions, as well as management.

I don’t think the solution is soft in this case. Maybe these two should just not be working in a customer service field. But I blame them, not the manager for my bad experience.