Employee Engagement and the Role of “Engaging Leaders”

As our DecisionWise team recently completed revisions to our new book ENGAGEMENT MAGIC: Five Keys for Engaging People, Leaders, and Organizations, the “Engaging People™” concept stood out as a differentiator for organizations, leaders, and individual employees. Our research into what creates employee engagement clearly pointed to this double entendre, “engaging people,” as one of the most important tools a manager can bring to employee engagement.
Engaged employee
First, a leader can be an engaging (as an adjective) individual. He or she may possess certain skills, personality traits, or abilities that naturally draw people to the engaging environment. But there are also certain things these engaging managers do (the verb) to create an environment in which others choose to engage.

As a leader, you have influence over the engagement of the people you supervise. While they must still choose to be engaged, you have more influence than possibly anyone else in your organiza­tion. So, no pressure.
The good news? Our research for ENGAGEMENT MAGIC clearly shows that the more engaged you are as a leader, the more engaged your subordinates are likely to be.

As critical as managers are to the health of an organization, it would be sur­prising if the engagement level of leaders didn’t impact the engagement level of the employees working under them. In fact, in research we conducted to see if there was a relationship between the engagement level of managers and the engagement level of their subordinates, we found that the more engaged man­agers are in their work and workplace culture, the more engaged their teams are. That’s intuitive, right? It’s also scientific, and the stats support it.

Our research teams reviewed data files containing employee engagement survey results from twenty-two companies. After removing the results from all managers with fewer than four subordinates, we were left with survey responses from 2,300 managers and 18,913 rank-and-file employees. Care­ful analysis of the engagement scores of both groups (managers and employees) revealed that:

  • There are four “categories” or levels of employee engagement. 35 percent of managers fell into the Fully Engaged category, 50 percent were classified as Key Contributors, 13 percent fell into the Opportunity Group, and only 2 percent were Fully Disengaged.
  • The results for employees (non-managers) showed a similar distribution—27 percent of employees were Fully Engaged, 49 percent were Key Contributors, 20 percent of employees were in the Opportunity Group, and 5 per­cent were Fully Disengaged.
  • The percentage of employees who are Fully Engaged increases by 50 percent when the manager is Fully Engaged (instead of merely being a Key Contributor).

Boiled down, the results of our research show that (1) engaged manag­ers clearly impact the engagement level of their teams; and (2) engaged managers have more engaged teams.
The good news is that managers and executives seem to be increasingly more engaged than in the past. In 2018, managers and executives have shown the high­est engagement levels of any position, and we have seen their engagement jump considerably over the past five years. The bad news is that not enough managers understand just how critical their own engagement is to that of their teams.

As a follow-up to our 2016 research on the impact of a manager’s engage­ment on that of their team, our researchers’ 2018 findings emphasized just how critical that relationship is. These researchers found that when a man­ager’s own level of engagement increased just one percentage point from one year’s survey to the next, we could expect to see a 213% increase in the odds of that manager’s employees engaging in their work.

So, does it matter that a leader is engaging? It seems to be pretty clear, from both common sense and the research: Engaging Leaders have engaged employees.

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