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5 great ways to shatter employee engagement

Want your employees to quit, or at least slow their productivity and ratchet back their commitment to your organization? Just mix and match these destructive behaviors.
By Cord Himelstein | Posted: October 19, 2015

More than 2 million people quit their job each month, and the No. 1 reason is the quality of the relationship they have with their direct supervisor.

It stands to reason, as managers are more likely to have daily interactions with employees, and they are usually the benchmark that employees use to judge a company's culture.

However, only 32 percent of employees are truly engaged in their work, and we suspect it has something to do with these five manager behaviors that kill engagement:

1. They don't recognize and reward employees.

A recent Interact/Harris Poll of 1,000 U.S. employees saw nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of respondents agree that not being recognized for achievements was a pressing concern in the workplace.

The most basic unspoken agreement in the workplace is this: The employee does good work, and management recognizes that work with sincerity and compassion, rewarding where appropriate. Managers simply can't operate in a modern workplace anymore without this essential approach.

Before they can do valuable work, employees must first know they are valued. Currently, only 20 percent of them feel that way, and 35 percent consider it the biggest hindrance to their productivity.

2. They don't communicate well, or at all.

It's common sense: Managers who don't set clear expectations get muddled results.

In a European Leaders study, 64 percent of the 2,000 full-time employees surveyed said their overall performance would improve if senior management communicated more effectively. Other studies have shown it's a primary catalyst for morale issues among staff.

Without a strong grasp of the fundamentals of communication, managers are ill-equipped to motivate employees.

3. They don't practice emotional intelligence.

Yelling at or berating an employee should not be a management tactic anymore.

Practicing emotional intelligence involves four key skills:

  1. Perceiving and expressing emotions;
  2. Understanding emotions;
  3. Using emotions; and,
  4. Managing emotions.

Many researchers believe proficiency in these skills is more important than overall IQ when it comes to individual success. When a manager can't express his/her feelings in a professional manner, nor stay cool in the face of adversity for that matter, motivation and productivity might as well be off the table.

4. They micromanage.

More than half (59 percent) of employees have worked for a micromanager. Of those who have been micromanaged, 68 percent said it decreased morale, and 55 percent said it lowered productivity.

Micromanagers demotivate employees and create needless paranoia by acting as a controller of behavior instead of a leader of people. Some employees might thrive in that environment, but we've never met any. Most micromanagers do so out of a need for control that often has more to do with them than the performance of their employees.

To all those micromanagers out there: Stop it, please.

5. They don't let employees pursue their passions.

Many employees—especially millennials—use their day job to primarily support a parallel career or personal passion of some kind.

Providing employees the opportunities and support to pursue their passions greatly improves their overall happiness and productivity. Yet many managers still feel the need to force employees to work within a little box, limiting their ambitions.

Encourage your staff to appear in and shoot their own videos. Learn how in this free guide.

As in any abusive relationship, they want the employee to believe that there is nowhere else to go and they should give up trying. Smart employees know better, and smart managers know that 65 percent of employees cite a lack of flexibility as a reason for quitting.

Caveat emptor

Having said all that, it's important to note that frontline managers don't have an envious position.

Sometimes called "America's most neglected employee," managers are notoriously undertrained and frequently go unrecognized for their contributions. A Root survey of 200 training executives reported that 83 percent of them had less than a quarter of their training budget set aside for manager training sustainment, but only 18 percent felt they were successful at it.

Furthermore, reducing overhead (57 percent) and making technology upgrades (48 percent) were more likely to be prioritized over investments in manager training.

Building better leaders

Experts cite the lack of well-trained managers as a main cause for the perennially low engagement levels that plague modern workplaces, but we don't hang that jacket squarely on them.

The problem is systemic: For the whole feedback mechanism to work properly, managers need the same kind of motivation and support from senior leaders as they give to employees. All too often, organizations promote employees to management without the proper preparation and tools to succeed, and then they leave them to their own devices.

With a little thought and preparation, we can all learn to be better leaders of people.

A version of this article first appeared on the Michael C. Fina blog.

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