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Your managers are killing engagement.


Meredith Stack


Improving employee engagement is one of the most valuable things you can do for your business. But your managers are getting in the way.

Data from Gallup shows companies with the highest rates of employee engagement achieve four times higher earnings-per-share growth compared to their competitors. They also see better customer engagement, higher productivity, better retention, fewer accidents, and greater profitability than those that fall into the lowest quartile of engagement.

Despite these enviable benefits, only 34 percent of employees in any company at any given time are engaged, according to Gallup’s 2019 results.

Improving employee engagement is a complicated task that can be effected by many factors, including the company’s mission, quality of work, and opportunities to advance. However the one factor that consistently determines whether engagement efforts will work is how managers manage. No matter how committed leadership is to improving engagement, or how many benefits or programs HR rolls out, engagement is made or broken at the manager level.

And chances are your managers have no idea how engage their teams.

It’s not their fault. Historically managers land in these roles because they were great at their old jobs – not because they are proven leaders. Most of them have never had any formal training in how to coach people, and the people who promote them have no idea what kind of leader they will be until they are already in the job. That can be catastrophic for team morale.

One Gallup study found companies fail to choose the right candidates for management positions an astonishing 82% of the time; and that these bad decisions account for at least 70% of variance in employee engagement scores.

The solution? Do a better job of picking managers.

Just because someone is a great at what they do, it does not mean they will be a great leader. Subject matter experts can be uninspiring, lack social skills, or feel the need to micro-manage people to the point of quitting. When poor leaders are promoted there is a mismatch between employees and their jobs and it has a cascading effect on those work with (or for) these misplaced employees.

Conversely when the right people are put into management roles, the entire team can flourish.

According to the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP), managers can directly impact engagement through their management style. “They have the opportunity to craft employees’ daily work routines in order to promote the highest levels of engagement possible,” SIOP declares in a report on the topic.

Through their research, they found that effective managers cultivate engagement by doing many of the following:

  • Provide lots of feedback
  • Help employees see the relevance of their work
  • Offer autonomy over how tasks are completed
  • Provide support and mentoring
  • Hire for culture
  • Encourage open communication and sharing of ideas
  • Acknowledge and celebrate successes
  • Reduce administrative overload

Pre-employment tests help companies identify existing employees and new candidates who are likely thrive in leadership roles. These assessments provide an in-depth look at the skills and attributes a candidate (or existing employee) brings to the table, so recruiters can quickly determine who has the right traits for management, or why they may not be a good fit.

When companies use these tools as part of every hiring decision, they can revisit the results to identify existing employees who have core leadership skills, and put them on a fast track to management. They can also use these tools to assess their highest performing, and use their results as a benchmark to compare future management candidates. These traits can then be built into a hiring profile that will predict who is most likely to thrive as a manager in your organization.

If you want to create a Great Place to Work, choosing the right managers is critical. Using assessments in this process will ensure your leaders have what it takes to engage their teams and to create a culture where people love what they do.

A manager speaking with her team

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