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Employee Engagement – What's a Manager to Do?

| February 17, 2015

by Jim Bruce

Last week’s Tuesday Reading, “Employee Engagement – What?” focused on what employee engagement is.   According to Kevin Kruse in Employee Engagement 2.0, “Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.  This emotional commitment means engaged employees actually care about their work and their company.  They don’t work just for a paycheck or just for that next promotion, but on behalf of the organization’s goals.”
I noted last week that employee engagement is important because highly engaged employees have more positive attitudes at work and about work, and are more productive. They go beyond just doing the tasks they are directly responsible for.  They actively engage in the work of their team, look for ways to innovate, to improve their products and services, and to build relationships with their clients.  
Data from the Dale Carnegie Training Survey, as well as from several other national employee engagement surveys, suggest that there are three primary drivers to employee engagement:

  1. The employee’s relationship with his or her direct supervisor.  “The attitude and actions of the immediate supervisor can enhance employee engagement or can create an atmosphere where the employee becomes disengaged.”  (Reference 1.)
  2. The employee’s trust in senior leadership (leaders above their direct supervisor), and in particular their integrity.  Are these leaders actually “walking their talk?”
  3. The employee’s pride in working for the organization, for its contributions to the society broadly.

Of these three, the first, the employees’ relationship with his or her direct supervisor, is, and has been for a number of years, seen as the most important.  There is, however, one caveat:  Some recent research suggests that the employee’s relationship with peers on the team and across the organization is becoming important and in some instances may rival the employee’s relationship with the direct supervisor.  And another study, which examined the impact of factors outside of work, reminds us that “the entire person comes to work,” and therefore that there are many external influences that also affect each employee’s engagement at work.
Given the importance of the employee’s relationship with his or her direct supervisor, it is worthwhile to ask, what does the employee expect from the supervisor?  Here are five expectations that seem most important:

  • Have a great place to work, with clear job expectations and a clear vision for the team and the larger organization.
  • A perception that his or her work is important and is valued by the supervisor and the organization.
  • Open, transparent communication, of the good and the bad, with the direct supervisor and within the team.
  • Regular meetings, at least monthly, with direct supervisor to discuss the employee’s work – what’s going well and not – and opportunities for growth and development.
  • Recognition and appreciation, both private and public, for his or her great work.  It’s been said, “Having a role is good.  Doing well is great.  Being acknowledged for a job well done feels even better.”

Given these expectations that engaged employees have, what steps might a direct supervisor take to advance the engagement of his or her team?  I encourage you to think about this and formulate several actions that you might want to take with your team.
Have a great week.  .  .  .     Jim


  1. Gallup, “Status of the American Workplace.”  (Registration at the site required.)  
  2. Dale Carnegie Training, “What Drives Employee Engagement, and Why it Matters.” (Registration at the site required.)  
  3. Susan Motte, “Employee Engagement Depends on What Happens Outside the Office.”