If managers aren't engaged, do you think workers are?

Engagement is linked to productivity, retention, morale and innovation. But if your managers aren't engaged, their direct reports won't be, either.

employee manager engagement
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Employee engagement is one of the most important key performance indicators businesses use to gauge success. But Gallup's most recent research shows that engagement's remained stagnant for the last few years. If organizations want to improve their competitive edge and attract elite talent, they have to make engagement a priority.

Only 32 percent of U.S. workers were engaged in their jobs in 2015, according to Gallup, which has tracked engagement since the year 2000. Fifty percent of the 80,844 adults working for an employer surveyed by Gallup between January and December 2015, say they were "not engaged," while another 17 percent were "actively disengaged."

The 2015 averages are largely on par with the 2014 averages and reflect little improvement in employee engagement over the past year, according to the Gallup research

This is important, Gallup says, because, "Engaged employees are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work. Gallup's extensive research shows that employee engagement is strongly connected to business outcomes essential to an organization's financial success, such as productivity, profitability and customer engagement. Engaged employees support the innovation, growth and revenue that their companies need."

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Engagement and the bottom line

In other words, engaged employees directly impact your bottom line. "There's a direct correlation between engagement and performance. If you're not engaged at work, you don't perform that well. If the majority of your employees are disengaged, your business isn't going to perform that well. And if your managers aren't engaged, that's an even bigger problem," says Vip Sandhir, founder and CEO at HighGround, a performance management software company.

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Disengagement and attrition

If managers aren't engaged, there's a high probability that their direct reports aren't engaged, either. People don't necessarily quit their company, they quit because of their bad manager, and so the disengagement problem can also lead to turnover and retention problems, Sandhir says.

Addressing engagement issues starts with making sure your managers and employees understand the problem and also understand their role in fixing it. Getting back to basics with simple recognition and rewards can be a great place to start if you're trying to address issues with engagement in your workforce, says Karen Hsu, vice president of marketing at workforce management and employee engagement software company Badgeville, and it not only helps employee engagement, but managers' engagement, as well, she says.

"The important thing for managers is to understand that there's a problem, and that they can play a key role in addressing it. Starting at a very basic level, you need to understand the importance of connecting with your direct reports, and recognizing and rewarding them for their achievements. But it's not just getting recognized and rewarded, there are positive impacts on engagement for those giving the recognition, too," says Hsu.

Today's workforce wants to have a clear understanding of how their work impacts the larger strategy of the business, and so managers need to make a greater effort to become facilitators and mentors, helping their direct reports map their individual work to larger company goals and strategy, says Hsu.

"We talk to a lot of clients about how to clearly map individual work to company goals; about setting weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly goals. That process and the ongoing communication and feedback taps into external motivation - because there's the possibility of reward and recognition - and intrinsic motivation, too, as people see that their behavior matches up with goals and has a positive outcome," Hsu says.

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Put me in, coach

As businesses increasingly use engagement as a key performance indicator, managers should do some soul-searching and look at their own levels of engagement and that of their direct reports to see where they can improve, according to Sandhir.

"Managers have to step up to the plate here. They can't get away with being detached and unavailable. Today's workforce needs and wants regular feedback and recognition, and managers have to deliver. The analogy I like is that of a sports team coach -- they don't wait until the end of the game to coach, they're doing it before, during and after to get the best results," Sandhir says.

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This story, "If managers aren't engaged, do you think workers are?" was originally published by CIO.

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