Human Resources

Looking to Improve Employee Engagement? Hold Your Managers Accountable

By Hugh Tonks

In yesterday’s Advisor, guest columnist Evan Hackel provided three ways to make interactions among employees more proactive and positive. Today, we present an article by Hugh Tonks, CEO of Thymometrics®, a supplier of employee engagement surveys. Tonks’ recommendation for improving engagement? Accountability on the part of management.

According to a Gallup® study, managers account for up to 70% variance in employee engagement in the U.S. workforce. This is a staggering indictment of managers, considering the fact that engagement is such a widespread problem.

Managers are hired to be leaders and to inspire their workforce. But in reality, a large percentage are disengaged themselves. In another study from Gallup, just 35% of U.S. managers were found to be engaged in their jobs.

This cycle of dissatisfaction—where both managers and employees are simply sleepwalking their way through each working day—is having a huge effect on productivity. Estimates of how much money disengagement is costing the American economy stand in the area of $450 billion to $550 billion, annually.

It’s time managers became more accountable to their employees.

Why Do Managers Not Recognize the Problem?

Management is an incredibly demanding role, and yet too many managers seem to disregard improving their own performance, placing the main responsibility on their employees. Why do so many managers fail to realize that they need to lead by example? There are two main reasons:

  1. The majority of those promoted to management positions were typically high performers in their professional field. However, they have never been given formal training on how to take on a leadership role and have therefore not developed the skills required to get the best performance out of people.
  2. These managers have never been properly held accountable for their “people” responsibilities. They don’t recognize the importance of employee engagement and how focusing on this issue could greatly improve productivity.


Foster Open Communication Between Managers and Employees

Frank and frequent communication is the foundation of any strong relationship, and relationship-building is the key to management. Hence, the single most effective way for managers to improve their relationships with employees is to create a culture of open and honest communication.

Simple as it sounds, this is not an easy task, and it can be even more difficult in larger companies (particularly those with over 1,000 employees). To meet workers’ needs and to ensure that each individual feels that leaders hear their opinions, companies need to establish working channels to gather feedback from all levels of the organization.

Here are three suggestions:

  • Hold regular employee-focused meetings, and encourage all employees to contribute to the discussion.
  • Have an “open door” policy with regards to employee feedback.
  • One final thing for managers to note is that those who respond to employee questions and concerns within 24 hours—whether in person, over the phone, or electronically—typically are the most effective at maintaining engagement levels. It’s the little things that count, too!


Make Managers More Self-Aware

Self-awareness is the foundation of people-leading skills and for building an environment of trust. This obviously requires managers do a lot of personal self-reflection; in their interactions with others, being emotionally and socially aware can help build and strengthen relationships.

To help with this self-reflection process, it helps greatly if employees can weigh in with their feedback too. In addition to holding regular meetings, manager feedback surveys are a useful and anonymous tool for doing this. The reverse of the performance appraisal, a manager feedback survey allows employees to voice grievances anonymously while creating a clear culture of accountability established on data-based insights.

Managers should be constantly thinking about how to improve the performance of others, and they do that best when they are held accountable to their own performance.