Employee Engagement Starts With Leaders

By Anthony Eaton

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

According to a Gallup poll on employee engagement, less than one-third (31.5%) of U.S. workers were engaged in their jobs. While that is up from the previous year and the highest since Gallup began tracking engagement, the flip side is that the majority of employees are not engaged and, according to the poll, 14.5% were “actively disengaged.”

The Gallup poll went on to say that the highest engagement was among managers and executive officers and had increased from 34.7% to 38.4%. This means that 61.6% of executives and managers are either not engaged or actively disengaged. So what is the effect of disengagement on front-line employees?

“Today, no leader can afford to be indifferent to the challenge of engaging employees in the work of creating the future. Engagement may have been optional in the past, but it’s pretty much the whole game today.”

Another survey by recruitment agency Staffbay.com found that 87.2% of employees wanted to leave their current role within 12 months, and a study by Harris Interactive indicated that 74% of people would consider leaving their job.

While these studies were done a few years ago, they are still relevant as the economy and job market improve from where they were at the time of the studies. It is important to also keep in mind that talented employees are always in demand, and those are the ones who will leave first.

Where does manager engagement fit into this picture? If we look at the Staffbay survey, 52.6% of their respondents said they would leave because they did not trust their boss.

A CareerBuilder survey said that 37% had poor opinions of their boss, and a recent Gallup study reported that about 50% of the more than 7K surveyed said they left a job “to get away from their manager.” Clearly, there is a problem with today’s management, but what is the solution?

Identify & Select

Poor managers cost companies billions because they directly impact employee engagement and turnover. The first problem is that companies tend to select individuals to manage instead of lead.

Anyone can be a manager, but being a leader takes a completely different skill set. Getting the work done and hitting the desired numbers are important, but they are the only important factor because those costs are easy to measure.

“I think that if you ask what’s made us successful, it’s because we’ve been fortunate enough to identify, in a number of cases, great people early. Then we throw all the resources behind them and are aligned with them.”

What is harder to measure is the potential lost productivity by employees who are disengaged due to poor management and the staggering cost of turnover. Instead of selecting managers based solely on their ability to get the work done or make the “numbers,” companies need to define what [intlink id=”7538″ type=” post”]skills[/intlink] make for good leaders and select based on a mix of all of these abilities.

Train & Develop

Once the individual with the right mix of leadership and management skills is identified and hired, the work must continue with robust training and development. Too often, after a manager is hired, the individual is left to his or her own devices, and then senior management wonders why they have so many problems.

You can work really hard, but if you’re not training in the right way, you’re not going to improve and get to the level that you want to.”

It cannot be assumed that just because someone knows how to land the sale, they know how to lead other people. Leadership is learned, and if a person has never had [intlink id=”50510″ type=” post”]good leadership[/intlink], they can’t be expected to know what it looks like. New managers need to have a structured process in order to develop into strong leaders.


It seems simple, but holding people accountable seems to be one of the biggest challenges for organizations because accountability really starts with setting clear expectations. Setting clear expectations involves more than just stating what you want the end result to be.

It also involves clarifying how, when, and what happens if the expectation is not met. Finally, it involves actually following through and holding the individual accountable. This should be truer for leaders, as they set the example for everyone else.


“Not everything that can be measured matters, and not everything that matters can be measured.” ~Einstein

Metrics are important, but only if value and action come from them.  Something must be done with the data that is collected. There tend to be two extremes when it comes to metrics: either nothing is being measured, and thus opportunities for improvement and realignment are being missed, or everything is being counted, but nothing is being done with the data because it is either too much or it has just become an exercise in collection for collection’s sake.

When it comes to leadership metrics, the first step is to define what matters and then separate these aspects from other business metrics like financials, etc.  The second step is to define how these results will be used. Here it is important not to fall into the trap of collecting data for collection’s sake but actually use it.


All of these strategies should yield results in the form of employee retention and satisfaction. Those steps will, in turn, result in greater productivity and a better bottom line.

It all starts with identifying the right leaders. Develop them so that they are actively engaged. Expect them to set the right example. Establish metrics that count and hold them accountable.

How Does Engagement Work for Leaders?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Anthony Eaton
Anthony Eaton
Anthony Eaton is a seasoned HR professional with more than twenty years of experience. Believing that every person has the opportunity and potential to lead, his focus is on helping others be the best leaders they can no matter who they are or position they hold. His website Leadership and More features interviews, articles and tips to help people be successful leaders.
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