The Secret to Employee Engagement? Management that Cares.

By Laura Newcomer

High employee engagement is a critical part of a company's ability to innovate, retain employees, sustain positive morale, and improve its bottom line. 

In fact, Gallup research from nearly 1.9 million employees found that employee engagement influences the full gamut of key performance outcomes, including:

  • Customer ratings
  • Product or service quality
  • Overall productivity
  • On-the-job safety
  • Absenteeism
  • Turnover
  • Company profitability

That's great news for organizations where employees are engaged. Unfortunately, those companies appear to be few and far between. Gallup has also found that worldwide, a measly 13 per cent of employees are engaged at work. 

If you're looking to increase employee engagement, then you've no doubt come across tons of articles about benefits, HR initiatives, and a company culture that's all about "fun" or "meaning." While each of these initiatives certainly has its own merits, the truth is that employee engagement largely comes down to team members' relationships — especially with their managers. That means improving your management practices is one of the most effective ways to boost engagement in your workplace. 

Here's a closer look at how much management influences employee engagement, plus several strategies for enhancing engagement and reducing turnover through better management practices.

The Importance of Good Management

Previous research suggests that managers have the power to make or break employee engagement, which refers to employees' willingness to show up to work enthusiastically, commit to company goals, and collaborate, as well as their motivation to go above and beyond for the company.  

In fact, managers can cause up to 70 per cent of the variance in employee engagement scores. Given that global employee engagement rates are consistently low, it's fair to conclude that poor management is pandemic — a fact underscored by a Gallup study that found that one in two of the more than 7,200 U.S. adults surveyed had left a job to get away from a manager at some point in their careers. 

These findings make sense when you consider that managers are often the most frequent point of contact for employees. Team members look to managers to gauge the company's values and priorities, and they're less likely to remain engaged if they don't like what they see. That's why managers who make a habit of poor practices, such as inconsistent expectations, micromanaging, overtly favouring certain employees over others, and failing to focus on building relationships with their employees, are less likely to see high levels of engagement. 

While poor management hampers employee engagement, the good news is that sound management practices can significantly increase it. The next section explains the management strategies that can grow engagement in your workplace. 

How to Grow Employee Engagement with Better Management

To ensure that managers are enhancing and not stunting their teams’ engagement, focus on adopting the following seven employee engagement strategies. 

1. Promote wisely, and train managers in the skills most closely tied to engagement.

Per Gallup's “State of the American Manager” report, the leadership skills most necessary for effectively managing a team include:

  • Accountability
  • Assertiveness
  • The ability to build relationships
  • Decision-making
  • Motivation

Therefore, an easy way to increase your chances of cultivating an effective management team is to promote people with as many of these aptitudes as possible.

For those managers who don't naturally possess all of these traits, the good news is that many of them can be taught. That requires an investment in relevant training so that your managers are as skilled as possible in leading effectively. You could also develop a mentorship program so less experienced managers can learn from upper-level members of management who model effective leadership behaviours. 

Finally, let managers know that employee engagement is one of their metrics for success. Hold them accountable for creating a healthy workplace based on specific guidelines. When managers know they're responsible for engaging their teams, they’re more motivated to incorporate these practices into their daily routines. 

2. Model engagement. 

Employees aren't going to be inspired by managers who are uninspired themselves. In fact, a 2015 Gallup poll found that employees who are supervised by highly engaged managers were themselves 59 per cent more likely to be engaged compared to employees supervised by disengaged managers. Team-wide engagement starts with managers’ own engagement. 

3. Solicit — and respond to — employee feedback.

Employees are more likely to remain engaged at work if they know their feedback is welcomed and valued. To that end, make sure to regularly survey your employees for their opinions — and be prepared to take action on the feedback you receive. Failing to do so is a surefire way to negatively impact morale, while effectively addressing employee feedback builds trust, rapport, and engagement. For this reason, it's a good idea to design surveys so they’re specific, actionable, and even data-driven

4. Prioritize regular communication. 

Consistent communication isn't just important for the familial or friendly relationships in our lives. It's also a critical component of effective manager-employee relationships. No matter whether it takes place in person, over the phone, or electronically, research suggests that regular workplace communication is linked with higher engagement. 

In fact, employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them can be nearly three times more likely to be engaged than team members whose managers don't meet with them on a regular basis. Engagement is highest among employees who interact with their manager on a daily basis (no matter the medium). 

5. Get to know the team as people.

It's one thing to meet with a team member and have a quick conversation about the nuts and bolts of a work project. It's a much better thing to take time to get to know that team member for their personal interests, talents, strengths, goals, and so on. Building positive rapport and personal relationships is another proven strategy for boosting employee engagement. It can also strengthen feelings of respect and trust within the team, which boosts morale and can improve collaboration.

6. Establish clear performance metrics.

Unclear or constantly shifting expectations are a quick way to degrade employee morale and engagement. In contrast, work with team members to clearly define their roles and priorities, collaborate when problem solving needs to occur, and regularly track progress to increase employee productivity and innovation. This is particularly true when these behaviours are part of an ongoing conversation as opposed to being relegated to a single, annual performance review. This helps explain why Gallup research found that managers who excel at performance management boast more engaged team members than managers who don't. 

7. Let employees know they're valued.

Don't underestimate the power of verbal or other demonstrable appreciation. When employees feel appreciated, they're more likely to remain motivated at work. 

By positively reinforcing team members' contributions, you'll inspire them to continue contributing. You'll also develop a work culture that emphasizes strengths over weaknesses, which is linked with faster on-the-job learning, higher productivity, reduced turnover, and higher engagement. In fact, Gallup research suggests that when managers emphasize growing their employees' strengths, they're over twice as likely to keep their team engaged. 

Demonstrating that you value employees also comes down to more tangible aspects of their work lives. For instance, to let employees know that they're truly valued at work, focus on:

  • Assigning healthy workloads
  • Compensating employees appropriately
  • Offering flexible schedules
  • Paying for continuing education
  • Providing employees with other concrete benefits

Employees are Key to Your Company’s Success

Sustained, high levels of employee engagement hinge on sound management practices. While providing perks is well and good, those perks won't mean much if employees feel like their perspectives and contributions are unseen and unvalued.

It's essential to hire and promote managers who are invested in developing the soft skills necessary to lead effectively. By getting to know employees as people, clearly communicating expectations, responding effectively to feedback, and modeling respect and engagement in the workplace, managers can have a tremendous impact on employee engagement and the company's bottom line.

About the author:

Laura Newcomer is a writer, editor, and educator with multiple years of experience working in the environmental and personal wellness space. Formerly Senior Editor at the health site Greatist, Laura now lives and works in Pennsylvania. Her writing has been published on Washington Post, TIME Healthland, Greatist, DailyBurn, Lifehacker, and Business Insider, among others. She has taught environmental education to students of all ages in both Pennsylvania and Maine, and prioritizes living an environmentally sustainable lifestyle. She’s a big proponent of creating self-sustaining communities and accessible healthy food systems that care for both people and the earth. An avid outdoorswoman, she can often be found hiking, kayaking, backpacking, and tending to her garden.

Share this Image On Your Site