How Managers Affect Employee Engagement

Although managers influence the job commitment and satisfaction of employees, as many as one-in-three managers are not held accountable for engagement levels in their organization, according to a study recently conducted at Right Management.



Right Management analyzed responses from 357 senior human resource professionals in an online poll and asked, “Does your organization hold leaders accountable for employee engagement?” The results were: 

  • 18% - Yes, consistently
  • 46% - Yes, sometimes but not formally
  • 33% - No, we do not track
  •  3% - I do not know

If leaders are not held accountable for employee motivation or commitment, then employees are lacking in direction and may be left to flounder. We know from research that effective leadership affects the business metrics tied to organization performance.

Download our free Guide here to learn how to increase engagement with your team.

Leaders need to be accountable for employee engagement. The behaviors that most influence engagement – such as showing they value employees – need to be linked to performance expectations. It then becomes a mechanism for accountability. 

While a majority of organizations responding to the poll (46 percent) track the link between managers and engaged employees, they do it occasionally or informally. However, most companies don’t know how to identify the behaviors that foster strong engagement, let alone track their effectiveness.

Tracking employee engagement is a complex challenge. It is different for each organization, industry and country. The behaviors that might foster positive engagement in one firm may rank a lot lower in another. And different behaviors work better for senior leaders versus immediate managers. 

Additional research Right Management has done in this area highlights which leadership practices and behaviors most strongly relate to employee engagement. Those with the highest correlations are: 

1.Senior leaders value employees

2.Senior leaders have the capability to make my organization successful

3.Senior leaders effectively implement my organization’s strategy

4.Senior leaders effectively communicate my organization’s strategy to employees

Implicit in the main finding is that senior management must do more than simply say they value employee contribution. They need to demonstrate it and show employees that their ideas, contributions, values and commitment matter. It has to be ongoing, not an annual event.

The findings also show that senior leaders are valued almost as much for communicating with employees as they are for acting effectively. This doesn’t mean putting action in second place but points to the need to bring employees along with you.

The senior leadership behaviors that seem to matter least for engagement are “senior leaders ensure that projects are completed” and “senior leaders are visible to employees.”

Top management personnel also need to have personal authenticity and connect directly with each employee. These aren’t behaviors or practices that are fancy or dramatic, but are fundamental to how leaders can increase employees’ engagement levels and impact workforce performance.

Employee engagement is not a vague abstraction. We’re not talking about people’s morale or their motivation, but genuine commitment to the job. Without high engagement, organization performance, productivity and profitability are jeopardized. This is why organizations are seeking to define the core leadership challenge and how to bring about superior engagement at all levels. 

In an environment where new challenges are confronting leaders at a quickening pace, no organization can afford to overlook leader development. We already know that some 60 percent of employees are planning to move on for greener pastures. Leaders can directly influence employee retention and engagement. Bottom-line business results depend on bringing leaders to the top of their potential with maximum efficiency. These are the key players who can directly impact the engagement and productivity of a workforce, as well as morale and retention rates which all lead to overall better business performance.

For more tips on developing leaders in your organization check out our workshops. To meet the needs of both experienced trainers and managers, we designed the Training Provider to Trusted Advisor Workshop.

By David Hughes

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in November 2013 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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