Why Managers are the Gateway to Employee Engagement

Callie Rushton, Client and Project Support SpecialistEmployee Engagement, LeadershipLeave a Comment

Who was the best boss you’ve ever had? What types of behavior did they exhibit to earn your respect and trust?

Now think about the most difficult person you’ve ever had to report to. What made it frustrating?

Finally, consider how you showed up to work under each of these individuals. I’d hedge a bet that under the former, you were excited about your work on most days and eager to share stories about your job with friends. And under the latter, you were probably quite eager for five o’clock to roll around so you could head home and check out—or hop online to look for a new position.

It couldn’t be clearer that the manager relationship is one of the most critical determinants of employee engagement at work, and can either inspire a willingness to go above and beyond for the good of the organization or create an unhelpful mentality of “that’s not my job, not my problem” among workers. In fact, a recent Newmeasures case study found that team engagement is 20 points higher under “best-in-class” managers compared to those who provide less support. Put another way, these top-notch managers were 39 times more likely to have teams that score in the top 10 percent for engagement.[1]

Ideas to drive engagement

With this in mind, it’s important that managers take consistent, purposeful steps toward driving engagement.

Here are some specific things managers can start doing today as a manager to improve team productivity and creativity, maximize employee potential, and drive progress toward achieving organizational goals from the ground up.

1) Discuss career development

Time and again, we find that employees who report having had a meaningful conversation with their manager about career development and goals are significantly more engaged than those who don’t have these conversations. While you may address these topics in annual performance reviews, it’s a good idea to have informal conversations on the subject in the interim.

Figure out what your employees hope to learn and do to enhance their professional development. Then, check in periodically to see how those pursuits are unfolding and how you can continue to support them. This ongoing practice makes employees feel respected, motivated, and engaged.

2) Practice active listening

A key difference between best-in-class managers and those who are less supportive is active listening. Feeling heard often translates into feeling valued, which prompts employees to show up to work in their fullest capacity. It also helps if employees feel their manager cares about them as people and are personally invested in their success.

Make the time and effort to connect with your employees as individuals. If they come to you with a new idea, listen fully and be slow to dismiss it outright. Even if you can’t take every single suggestion that comes your way, you can still listen and respond to those ideas respectfully and encouragingly. For more on this subject, check out our tips for truly connecting at work.

3) Work to remove barriers

Inevitably, barriers to doing work efficiently and effectively arise in the workplace. While some roadblocks, like administrative documentation, are unavoidable, there are often small changes that would make substantial differences in the daily experiences of your team.

Take the time to find out what types of roadblocks your employees repeatedly run up against, and determine if it is within the span of your control to reduce those barriers. Driving engagement in this way could be as simple as ordering a new piece of equipment or implementing a new scheduling tool to reduce email back-and-forth.

Keeping engagement top-of-mind

While most of these actions may seem basic and intuitive, they often fall by the wayside as other demands creep up. It’s important to find ways that work for you to remember to practice these behaviors on a consistent, ongoing basis.

To be successful, integrate actions that drive team engagement into your normal workflow. If you’re a fan of to-do lists, make engagement part of them (and hold yourself accountable for not leaving it on the back burner). If you use your calendar to stay organized, schedule reminders and time slots to ensure you carve out time to follow up with your employees.

Finally, remember that empowering and investing in your own team will not only make their jobs easier, but yours as well. Engaging in these supportive supervisory behaviors can begin paying off right away, so figure out how you can immediately incorporate them into your work life!


[1] Best-in-class is determined by scoring in the top 10% of organizations compared to Newmeasures’ normative database, which includes 1,300 organizations and 1.3 million survey responses.