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Managers and employee engagement

By December 19, 2021 No Comments

Managers and employee engagement

With many businesses starting to get back to a degree of normality post Covid, ensuring that your employees are appreciated, valued and motivated is critical, as they are likely to be under more stress than previously, as they cope with your new work protocols.

Many reports are being published that 2022 will see a war on talent attraction, and keeping your top talent should be a high priority for any organisation.

Conventional wisdom says that managers are the primary drivers of employee engagement. And while managers no doubt play a role in the “engagement equation,” placing significant weight on the manager may not fully capture all the complexities of today’s workplace.

Indeed, it has been proven that feedback from colleagues is more motivational, and as peers see each other most of the time it is easier for them to give feedback when they see great work, so engagement can be driven top down and bottom up.

Employees globally are less confident in their immediate managers, especially in their ability to create excitement about the future of the organisation, and to give positive feedback.

This is not a big surprise. Organisations large and small are increasingly in a state of near-constant change, especially since Covid, trying to adapt to an increasingly volatile business environment.

Employees may not know what the future holds for their organisation or their role. In most cases, managers bear the brunt of the anxiety employees experience about change. When you consider that half of employees globally feel that change initiatives are not well managed, it’s easy to see how more broad perceptions of the leaders managing the change would drop.

This drop in perceptions of leaders is an important trend in itself. There has also been a decrease in confidence in HR Managers, as many employees feel that these managers are not doing enough to encourage positive feedback, and often have no budgets for implementing programs to recognise great performance. Too many are focused on transactional processes around engagement surveys, onboarding, exit interviews and reviews, instead of focusing on “building passion” in the workplace.

However, this is highlighted even more by the fact that Senior Leadership was one of the top drivers of employee engagement in an AON Hewitt report which also included the following:

  1. Recognition and Reward
  2. Employee Value Proposition
  3. Senior Leadership
  4. Career Development
  5. Enabling Infrastructure

As we see, Senior Leadership is listed third on the list of drivers, but direct managers didn’t even make the top 51!

This suggests that Senior Leaders need to take on a more active and involved role in order to engage their employees.

But this raises an important question: What might have caused Senior Leadership to become a more important driver of employee engagement? The way we see it, there are three major reasons:

  1. Senior Leaders will have more discretion over many of the other key drivers in 2022 and going forward compared to the direct manager. Rewards, pay and infrastructure are all largely driven by Senior Leadership. Managers can play a role, for instance by clarifying how pay is calculated, but larger discretion on changing these facets of the work environment fall on Senior Leadership.
  2. When we compare our global averages to those in the top quartile, we see massive gaps on Senior Leadership items – and, in fact, these gaps are twice as large as for the Direct Manager items. What does this mean? Top companies really differentiate on perceptions of Senior Leadership, particularly on creating excitement for the future, more than they do on perceptions of the Direct Manager.
  3. Based on Aon’s research into Managing Engagement in Times of Change, we know that Senior Leaders play an increased role in engagement during times of change. Although the research focused on more transformational changes (such as M & A), it stands to reason that the same holds true with the more incremental change that characterise many organisations. This is a vital point since there are so many external forces that are pressuring organisations today. Two of the most important external forces are rapid technology advancement and populist sentiment within the geopolitical environment.

The increased importance of Senior Leadership in driving engagement is likely due to a combination of several if not all of the above reasons. Regardless, this leaves us with an important question: what can business leaders do about it?

There is a clear need for businesses to have an engagement strategy in place and a mechanism to drive this, and there are products on the market that will do so, driving instant recognition and feedback, while lowering administrative overheads, and at the same time delivering consistency and transparency across the organisation. The use of technology can add significant value to your engagement strategy.

By driving positive employee engagement, and focusing on developing a Culture of Appreciation, you will be helping to build passion, loyalty (fewer sick days and lower staff turnover), continuity and growth. This should be viewed as a long-term goal – to build a good employee experience for the whole journey they have with your business, but it is worth it, as it will reduce staff turnover, improve productivity and customer experience which all impact your bottom line.

Engaging employees is a great approach but this needs to be underpinned with a clear and tailored strategy and framework for employee engagement that reflects your values and vision.

We are working with our clients to engage their employees by implementing a Culture of Appreciation to engage employees, and make them feel valued, appreciated and respected. If you would like to know more, call Brownie Points today on +61 (0)3 9909 7411 or email us at


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