The other day, I got a call from a friend asking me to be a reference for a new job. I was surprised because I always knew this person to be the definition of an engaged employee. They had even received national awards for the department they led. This is the kind person people say bleeds the company colors.
So why the change, I wondered.
The person told me that it’s just not the same place anymore. “I am not feeling valued, I am not empowered to make decisions, and my manager is alienating me.” When I asked how long this had been going on, the answer spoke volumes: “It started when I got a new manager.”
We hear stories like this all the time, and they reveal just how important the role of the manager is, especially when it comes to employee engagement. Let’s take a closer look at this issue, including what we learned from Dale Carnegie’s recent research on employee engagement. We’ll also walk through a three-step relationship-centered management approach that can keep employees like my friend feeling engaged and motivated at work rather than dejected and motivated to hunt for a new job.
The Manager’s Role in Employee Engagement
Picture your best boss ever. How did she make you feel about your work? What did he do that made you feel valued, competent and appreciated? How much did you learn and grow professionally while working for this leader?
Of course, it’s not a revelation that leaders play a crucial role in motivating and energizing their teams. But an employee’s immediate supervisor, regardless of level, is often the single most important — and often underutilized — resource for boosting engagement.
An employee’s immediate supervisor performs a number of vital roles, and in many companies, they still serve as the primary conduit for the flow of information. While company leadership may announce goals and objectives, employees continue to look to their supervisor to explain what they mean and how they may be affected. Employees also turn to their immediate supervisors first to provide work-related resources and remove obstacles, and for help developing their skills, networks and careers.
The supervisor, meanwhile, listens and responds to employee concerns, ensures their voices are heard, and passes feedback up to senior management. Through all of these and other tasks, what managers do and say — and importantly, how they say it — profoundly affects employees’ attitudes about their jobs, the organization and even themselves.
Engagement hinges on managers, but are managers prioritizing engagement? As the accompanying chart shows, in Dale Carnegie’s survey of 500 U.S. leaders, only 26% consider engaging employees to be a very important part of what they think about, plan and do every day. What about you? How does it fit into your work priorities?
While the majority of companies say engagement is a priority, most have not created an environment that enables and encourages their leaders at all levels to give it the attention it deserves.
The good news is that consistent effort does payoff: Of employees in our survey who strongly agree that their supervisor actively works to engage them, more than half (51%) are fully engaged. Our research also shows that leaders who make the commitment to engage their employees personally benefit from having an engaged team.
A few other significant points these leaders revealed:
3 Steps for Prioritizing Employee Engagement
Want to get those benefits? Want to retain your best talent? Here are three things you can do to prioritize and improve employee engagement in your area.
Be a relationship-centered leader. This mindset is at the heart of driving engagement. In order to help employees feel valued, confident, empowered and connected, a leader must behave in ways that demonstrate genuine interest, care and concern. The following practices are proven essential for relationship-centered leadership:
Conduct periodic engagement conversations with each team member. The purpose of these focused but less formal conversations is to get to know each employee better. What are her or his aspirations, preferences, talents and concerns? Most employees want to know that their immediate supervisor is interested in him or her as a person and cares about their life outside of work.
Career goals vary, and each person’s motivators are different. A single parent may value stability and job security, while an ambitious recent college graduate may be focused on new experiences and opportunities to grow. Savvy leaders manage each employee in a way that respects and relates to those differences.
Personalize recognition to lift self-confidence and develop people’s pride in their work. Employees perceive their own value to the organization largely through the feedback they receive from their immediate supervisor. Showing sincere appreciation should be a part of every leader’s skillset and their daily commitment to engagement. Everyone wants to feel valued and appreciated; frequent, personalized and meaningful recognition is at the core of employee engagement. As a leader, it’s up to you to learn and practice communicating appreciation effectively.
Make the commitment to engagement. Trust me, you don’t want to lose a great employee like my friend.
Herb Escher is President and CEO of Dale Carnegie Training of Rochester.m