Workforce Engagement Requires Engaged Management

A new Gallup State of the American Workplace study is coming out this Spring. It reveals workforce engagement is stuck in low gear. It doesn’t have to be that way; you can move your organization forward if you understand what is holding it back.

February 11, 2016

4 Min Read
Workforce Engagement Requires Engaged Management

By Babette Ten Haken 1

Do you lead or manage an engaged workforce? Then you are lucky. Seventy percent of the American workforce is not engaged at work.

The key variable in the equation: the degree and quality of leadership and management engagement.

A new Gallup State of the American Workplace study is coming out this Spring. I sat in on a webinar of preliminary findings last week. Things haven’t improved much from the prior iteration of this study.

It doesn’t have to be that way. However, you can’t move your organization forward until you understand what is holding it back. Here are several ideas to get you moving in the right direction.

Take Your Organization’s Pulse

Twelve key drivers have stood the test of time since the Gallup workplace survey was first conducted. The survey is conducted across the world, industries and generations. Data reveal that engaged employees:

  1. Perform duties and functions that are clearly expected of them

  2. Receive praise for good work

  3. Have their opinions count

  4. Have a friend(s) at work

  5. Have the right materials and/or equipment to perform work functions

  6. Have a supervisor who cares

  7. Work for a corporation whose mission makes that employee feel their job is important

  8. Have a performance progress chart as reference

  9. Are provided the right opportunities to do good work each day

  10. Receive encouragement

  11. Work with colleagues who are committed to their jobs

  12. Have opportunities to grow professionally

Stop the Once a Year Everything Survey

Most organizations take their pulse once a year. Gallup calls this exercise the “Annual Check the Box Event.” Employees react to a myriad of statements. They indicate whether they “Strongly Agree” with the statement, “Strongly Disagree” or fall somewhere in between.

Hundreds of data points are measured. The report is all-encompassing. It is difficult for anyone to understand the correlation between and implications from the bounty of information. Leaders and managers react, addressing every area of the survey simultaneously. They attempt to nudge a little bit of improvement out of folks. But often employees feel jerked around by all sorts of conflicting priorities and agendas as leadership and management attempt to shore up their own performance KPIs.

According to Gallup, this survey-centric culture is a dead-end to accelerating employee engagement, productivity and profitability.

Get Strategic

Enlightened organizations take their business pulse continuously. There is a sense of strategic purpose and continuity, reinforced by leadership and management. There is increased clarity of manager-employee expectations. Leadership walks the workforce engagement talk throughout the year.

As a result, there is integrated ownership of outcomes: everyone is accountable to everyone else. Employees have a greater sense of well-being as the performance bar is raised. Employees collaborate and buy into management and leadership expectations. Leadership and management collaborate and buy into employee expectations.

Strategic approaches to continuously measuring workforce engagement become the fulcrum leveraging performance management.

Focus on Employee Strengths

The Gallup workforce survey indicates that only 61 percent of supervisors focus on building employee engagement and productivity by focusing on strengths. Forty-five percent of supervisors/managers prefer to dwell on negatives. What is irrefutable: every time the Gallup Survey is conducted, 70 percent of the variance (deviations from the data mean) in employee engagement is defined by the level of their engagement with a manager.

When a manager is engaged in driving change, employees are 59 percent more likely to become engaged. When managers are recruited and hired for talent in engaging and leading employees, their teams are twice as likely to be engaged. If that manager also functions as a coach, there is 17 times more employee engagement.

These State of the American Workplace Study findings corroborate findings from the retrospective Gallup State of the American Manager Study, which is a compilation of research from 2.5 million manager-led teams in 195 countries and involving 27 million employees.

If leadership becomes responsible for and accountable to this initiative, managers are recruited and selected for engagement skillsets. When managers are hired for coaching and leadership qualities, each hire becomes pivotal to the organization.  

Connect the Front Line to the C-Suite

Engaged employees on the front line of your business are motivated to connect their work to the purpose and mission of the organization.

When leadership sets the tone and expectations for management’s role in employee engagement, turnover decreases by 30 percent and sales growth increases by 30 percent, according to the upcoming Gallup workforce study.

The future of workforce engagement is no longer siloed as a Human Resources exercise. It is a corporate cultural initiative for tomorrow’s organizations.

The future clearly is in your hands. What are your next steps?

 Babette N. Ten Haken is a strategist, analyst, author and blogger. Her focus: the interrelationship between teams, leadership and culture in technology and manufacturing.  Her Workshops target excellence in the execution of strategy. Babette began her career in clinical research where she was asked to bring clarity to stalemated cross-functional conversations. Her Playbook of collaboration hacks, Do YOU Mean Business?  is available on She writes for IBM, Penton, and other brands in the technology sector.


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