What About Engaging Managers?

If you do a Google search for employee engagement, you will be inundated with information sources. And with good reason! It is widely quoted that less than one-third of American workers are engaged in their jobs. And – also widely known – employee engagement is desirable because engaged employees directly and positively impact customer satisfaction and loyalty as well as business performance metrics, including profitability. So, it makes sense that a lot of people are looking for (and writing about) ways to improve employee engagement. However, it is important to note that most of the Google search returns are focusing on what managers can do to improve employee engagement.

So, who is worrying about the managers? What if the managers themselves are disengaged? Gallup’s State of the American Manager reports that only 35% of managers are engaged in their work. How can disengaged managers motivate their employees? They can’t. The research further shows that manager engagement accounts for 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores. Disengaged managers simply cannot create the environments and conditions most conductive to employee engagement.

Victor Lipmann, writing in Forbes, reports that among American workers, “one in two had left their job to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their career.” (Having a bad manager makes employees miserable at work, but also after work, multiplying the stress and negative impact.)

Aside from firing most of your disengaged managers, there are some steps that can help identify and engage managers. Many of the same tools that improve employee engagement work for managers as well:

  • Improve Communication and Communications Skills. Consistent communication is one of the most important conditions of employee engagement. But not all managers are born great communicators. Fortunately, communication skills can be learned and improved with practice. All forms of communication (electronic, phone, in-person) count – but employees are most engaged when managers communicate to build relationships and not just to deliver information.
  • Clarify Performance Management Goals. Performance management is often difficult for employees and managers, but annual reviews and developmental discussions are often key elements for increasing employee engagement. Employees need to understand where they stand in the organization, how they contribute to the success of the company and plans for the future. However, organizations have a responsibility for making performance goals clear, achievable, and relevant. If managers cannot explain employees’ goals, both parties will come away disengaged.
  • Focus on Strengths. Engaged employees are more likely to say their managers are focused on building on their strengths, rather than fixing their weaknesses. When your culture emphasizes individual strengths, employees learn their roles more quickly, produce more and better work, and stay there longer. Placing employees in positions that use their individual strengths is one of the most powerful techniques managers can use to increase engagement.

Clearly, for companies who want to improve employee engagement, the place to start is with managers. As Gallup CEO Jim Clifton said, “The single biggest decision you make in your job—bigger than all the rest—is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits—nothing.” If you are concerned about Employee Engagement, check your managers engagement first.

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