What has the biggest impact on employee engagement?

5 Errors Ineffective Managers Make that Send Your Employees Packing

The level of employee engagement in an organization is a complex confluence of many factors. (If you scroll through this blog, we touch on key details of how to improve employee engagement – everything from keeping your technology updated to implementing meaningful DEI initiatives).

However, it’s key to note that the drivers of disengagement are often different than the drivers of engagement. Today, we’re going to discuss the negative – what is causing your employee turnover and absenteeism problems.

Our research and work over the past 25 years have brought us to the same conclusion to the age-old question: What has the biggest impact on employee (dis) engagement?


We’ll write it out.

Managers, immediate supervisors, organization leaders (all of the above) are the single biggest variable when it comes to employee engagement and (dis)engagement.

Here are employees’ top complaints when it comes to ineffective managers and immediate supervisors, and why these issues affect their work, morale, and levels of engagement. We wouldn’t leave you with problems alone. Tackle these issues with strategies to improve engagement.

1. Managers don’t value the contributions an employee makes. This kills motivation, lowering productivity, work quality, and increasing absenteeism. This also affects team morale, as one undervalued employee can have a ripple effect on the entire team. Finally, employees who feel like they aren’t valued might be less likely to share ideas and suggestions with the team and manager, leading to lack of innovation and missed opportunities.
Strategy: Whether perceived or real, this is a problem that needs to be addressed. Recognize your employees’ work. Give candid, specific feedback as to what your team (or employee) is doing right. Make gratitude and recognition integral organization values to be taught, implemented, and practiced. Just as feeling undervalued is contagious, so, too, is gratitude and expressing it. Practice, practice, practice.

2. Managers don’t clearly define goals and expectations. This is maddening. HBR writes, “vague goals lead to unclear results and unmet expectations.” Moreover, unclear expectations are a petri-dish for breeding stress and anxiety. Decreased accountability and an increase in missed opportunities, poorly defined goals and expectations can crash employee engagement, resulting in lowered productivity and not-great work.
Strategy: Clearly communicate goals and expectations. Have employees communicate them back so there is a shared vision of success. “If you treasure it, measure it.” Set metrics and check in. Track your employees’ progress, coach your employees, provide informal and formal performance reviews, and don’t hover. (Steve Jobs-style management is very 1990s.)

3. Managers don’t emphasize collaboration and teamwork. This often results in poor communication among team members. They might develop a “need-to-know” attitude, using information as power. Or, quite simply, ideas and information isn’t shared, leading to mistakes. Lack of collaboration smothers innovation, as people work in silos, missing out on creative solutions that can lead to growth. Likewise, lack of teamwork can heighten competitiveness within teams, with the “star employee” mentality. Duplicate work and missed opportunities are common when teams don’t work together, wasting time and resources.
Strategy: If this is a problem in your organization, you must begin by building trust. This comes from a strategic communication plan, transparency, and respect. Train your teams and make development on soft skills like conflict-resolution and problem solving a priority. These should be core organization values and skills.

4. Managers don’t give employees the freedom to do their jobs effectively. We’re starting to sound like a broken record here, but this point is so important, it’s worth going over again … and again. When your employees don’t have the autonomy to do their work – meaning space and resources – you’re going to burn them out. Micromanaging causes a decrease in motivation, increase in stress, and reduced creativity, among other things. A great manager helps without hovering. Here’s how.
Strategy: Set clear expectations (see above). When everyone has a shared vision, less “hands-on” is necessary. Encourage a culture of experimentation. This means not everything is going to work. But it also means employees feel empowered to try new things and push boundaries, increasing innovation. Get the right people doing the right jobs. It’s not uncommon for a “difficult employee” to be the result of a bad hire. Establish and publish clear job descriptions. Take a skills audit with teams and provide development opportunities to get your team the skills they need. Delegate effectively. To do so, you need to know your teams’ skills. See the point above.

5. Managers don’t provide timely and constructive feedback. The silence of managers can cause a lot of anxiety, leaving employees in the dark. Lack of good feedback is often due to fear, insecurity, there’s “no-time” mentality, and lack of skills on how to communicate with teams. It’s not only about giving feedback, it’s about giving feedback well. This is a tenet of a healthy organization culture.
Strategy: Managers need to hone their EQ (emotional intelligence). Communication should be multi-directional and a strategic priority for the entire organization. Starting with employee engagement surveys, the organization can demonstrate how constructive feedback can lead to positive actions for the organization. Recognize the power of feedback in the moment. Focus on the what of the job, not the who. Train your teams not only on how to give feedback but also receive feedback, creating a culture of learning in your organization.

How engaged or disengaged your employees on can hinge on your organization leaders. As Simon Sinek says, “Corporate culture matters. How management chooses to treat its people impacts everything – for better or for worse.”

Develop your managers to be great leaders.

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