Why bosses are crucial to employee engagement

Last year Dale Carnegie Training asked MSW Research to undertake a benchmark, nationwide, cross-industry study of 1,500 employees to explore engagement in the workplace. The study discovered that among the multiple factors affecting employee engagement, a manager’s personal relationship with his or her direct reports is the single most influential. What follows are some of the conclusions that can be drawn from the study.

Employees in the study were asked to rate satisfaction with their immediate supervisor. Forty-nine percent of those employees who were very satisfied with their direct manager were engaged, and an incredible 80% of those who were dissatisfied with their immediate supervisor were disengaged.

It’s often said that employees don’t leave companies — they leave people. What managers do, how they behave, and what they say and how they say it affect employees’ attitudes about their jobs and their organization. Employees who are unhappy and dissatisfied with their immediate supervisor are less likely to identify with the organization’s vision and more likely to be absent or to resign. Employees who are engaged take pride in their work, support organizational goals, and are less willing to change jobs for a minor increase in salary.

A good supervisor makes employees feel valued and confident. A poor supervisor irritates them and makes them feel uncomfortable. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Employees’ relationship to their immediate supervisor affects the investment an organization makes in its people. When supervisors communicate positive emotions, employees feel good about the organization as a whole. On the other hand, negative reactions cause a decrease in productivity, leading to disengagement. Moving disengaged people to full engagement improves employee retention rates and leads to fewer sick days and less absenteeism.

Successful managers lead by example, which generates enthusiasm and inspires employees to work harder. A strong 62% of engaged employees say their manager sets a good example, compared to only 25% of those who are not fully engaged. Supervisors who delegate and trust their employees to carry out tasks empower their team to make decisions; 40% of those who feel empowered are engaged.



Open and honest communication between employees and supervisors is critical. Employees who feel respected by their supervisor will be confident that they can speak freely without fear of repercussions. Conversely, a supervisor who fails to communicate openly may lose the confidence of his or her direct reports and cause them to doubt their own abilities. Supervisors who communicate, trust, and respect their team generate the highest levels of engagement.

Employees perceive their value through the prism of their immediate supervisor. Recognition of their contribution, along with feedback and encouragement from their manager, leads to increased confidence, commitment, and achievement. Failure to recognize and reward good work can negatively affect morale and productivity. Many survey respondents said their supervisor respects them, but fewer mentioned that their supervisor provides feedback or encouragement to improve. This last aspect is most important for generating engagement.

Finally, employees have a positive relationship with supervisors who care about them, care about their life outside of work, and are interested in them as individuals, not just as another cog in the work machine. Just one-third of respondents believed their manager cared about their personal lives. However, 54% of these are fully engaged. Among the two-thirds who do not believe this, only 17% are engaged. If there is a great opportunity to boost engagement, managers need to demonstrate a caring attitude to their people. As the old saying goes: They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

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