Are managers the biggest drivers of employee engagement?

11 May 2022 5 min. read

The importance of employee engagement can’t be overstated – employee engagement has been proven to improve productivity, reduce staff turnover, and improve customer service and retention. Asif Upadhye, Director at Never Grow Up, weighs the impact managers can have on the state of employee engagement.

Engaging your employees with the aim of creating (and sustaining) a thriving business is closely tied to all aspects of a company’s work culture. While this might seem like a fairly simple task to execute, leaders and HR teams need to address exactly how they plan on crafting a stellar employee experience if they want to have any skin in the game.

Enhancing work-life with perks such as fitness sessions, flexible timings, premium health insurance, counselling support, and opportunities to upskill all contribute toward employee engagement and improving productivity across the board.

 Are managers the biggest drivers of employee engagement?

But in a world where companies are constantly competing to hire and retain the best talent, this is certainly not enough. Can companies do more to engage their people better? And if yes, could companies be missing out on leveraging key strengths within their own teams?

The role of managers

Today’s volatile work environment demands a great deal of resilience, compassion, and an innate ability to be mindful of the fact that each person is experiencing a unique set of challenges. The burden of keeping employees engaged often falls on the shoulders of their managers, who understandably find it cumbersome to drive employee engagement single-handedly.

Despite the fact that this function usually falls under the HR’s purview, managers play a pivotal role in encouraging employees to put their best foot forward, keeping the lines of communication open, and asking the right questions – all of which directly contribute to higher engagement.

With one in two employees reportedly quitting their jobs to get away from their manager, the stakes are already high!

As a practice, employee engagement cannot be routed solely through managers. It needs to be actioned across all levels of the company, in order to ignite real change. Facets of psychological capital including resilience, optimism, and motivation have a hand in how successful (or not) an organization will be.

The truth of the matter is that an employee’s resilience level is integral to the collective resilience of their team, and by that logic, it inevitably impacts the overall resilience of the organization at large. Empowering employees to take a leap of faith and put their best foot forward not only gives them a keen sense of purpose but also adds to their resiliency quotient.

Unfortunately, what most companies fail to realize is that a significantly large chunk of employees’ needs for constructive feedback, support, ownership, appreciation, and a listening ear, can all be met by their immediate manager.

A deeper look into the impact that a manager has on employee engagement revealed that employees rated managerial support as the most important aspect of company culture and are 5x more likely to stay with a company if their manager appreciates them for a job well done. And in my opinion, a 12% increase in individual performance on account of higher manager capability is definitely a data point worth exploring.

As a result, it is not surprising that the new world of work is drawing attention to how the employee-manager relationship continues to evolve. In my own experience with managers, HR teams, and employees, a little leadership can make a world of a difference. Fully-engaged teams spend less time worrying about hierarchical structures and display a greater commitment to their organizations.

But that’s not all. There are monetary and safety benefits too. Caterpillar’s $8.8 million annual savings from decreased attrition, absenteeism, and overtime are hands down some of the best examples of how employee engagement positively impacts business profitability.

With respect to safety at work, highly engaged employees at Molson Coors were five times less likely than non-engaged employees to have a safety incident. The beverage giant saved a whopping $1,721,760 in safety costs in the span of one year simply by firming up its employee engagement strategy.

Further reading: Companies that invest in employee health enjoy higher engagement.

Coming back to the point about managers being the biggest drivers of engagement, leaders need to ensure that managers are involved in strategic decision making, have the right tools to perform their jobs more efficiently, and most importantly are given the autonomy to lead with confidence. Holding managers accountable for engagement levels is a crucial piece of the puzzle and requires the ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances.

On a final note, it is important to remind ourselves that the responsibility of driving employee engagement rests with each one of us. When it comes to people and culture, allowing many voices to contribute to action plans, involving employees in the process, and empowering them to take charge of their goals will lead to impactful business outcomes that are both purpose-led and value-driven.