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The Manager’s Role in Employee Engagement: It Matters. A Lot.

Here's a scary statistic. It aptly summarizes just important that manager’s role in employee engagement is. 

50% of U.S. adults have left a job to get away from their manager (Gallup). Ouch. 

Management is not a popularity contest. No manager should make decisions or choose actions with the explicit purpose of gaining favor or being popular. 


Graphic Showing Asking Question for SolutionIt’s important for employees to like and trust and feel supported by their manager. The manager’s impact on employee engagement is profound. That finding is consistently borne out in all sorts of data and reports (probably including your own experiences and observations!). 

What Is the Manager’s Role in Employee Engagement Levels? 

People need to feel they can approach their manager with any type of question. They need to feel confident in the manager’s decisions, directives, and requests. 

If they don't feel confident in the manager, they will be disengaged from the employer, and they're likely to lack confidence in senior leadership. 

Engagement is the driver of any successful business strategy (read more here). In order for a company to be succeed, employees MUST be engaged.

Effective managers have employees who are more engaged in their work. Higher levels of engagement yield better business results. Effective managers, then, are essential for business success. 

What Can a Manager Do (Right Now!) to Improve Employee Engagement?   

An effective manager is one who retains and develops good employees, one who facilitates emotional connections the produce additional discretionary effort. That additional discretionary effort unleashes boosts in productivity, customer satisfaction, top line revenue, and profit margins. 

Effective managers put PEOPLE first. They understand that policies, procedures, programs, and profits are driven by PEOPLE. 

Ineffective managers view people as problems, time-sucking nuisances, and scapegoats. They see their own role as one of an overseer. They don’t delegate because they don’t trust people. They don’t coach and develop employees because they think they have better things to do. (NOTE: no matter how busy you are as a manager, there is NOTHING more important for the long-term than building people!)

Ineffective managers over-rely on tools of authority, discipline, policy, and position – all instruments that push people away instead of drawing them in.  


  • Only 21% of employees feel that they are managed in a way that motivates them (Gallup). 
  • 79% say they want their work to be managed in a way that's more motivating to them (Gallup).
  • 91% of workers say they feel motivated to do their best when they have management support (Gallup).
  • 65% of employees say they do not believe their manager supports them (Gallup). 
  • 69% of employees say they would work harder if they felt a manager appreciated their effort (HubSpot)
  • In 2021, globally, only 15% of employees are engaged in their work (Gallup).
  • 91% of employees say their managers fail to communicate with them in ways that are reliable, useful, and meaningful. (Interact/Harris)
  • 58% of people say they trust strangers more than they trust their own boss (HBR survey). 


To improve employee engagement, managers need to focus first on people. Here are five changes every manager should make immediately. 

1. Prioritize time with people.

Managers need to honor time booked for 1-to-1 meetings. They need to be available more often and with shorter notice. When meeting with employees, managers need to be fully tuned in and genuinely interested in two-way dialogue. 

Everything else can wait. When managers put people on the backburner, it bottlenecks progress. It also signals that the manager doesn’t care about employees – at least not as much as they care about all the other things they do instead of spending time with employees.  

2. Provide clear expectations and candid feedback in the interest of people development.

Poorly set expectations and sloppy feedback wreak havoc on morale, engagement, and performance. Some managers don’t know how to set expectations or deliver feedback. Others choose not to use proven tools, instead letting emotions, stress, or heat-of-the-moment reactions trigger outbursts that alienate employees.

All performance tools should be designed and implemented with a primary purpose for developing people. Setting expectations, training, giving feedback, evaluating performance, delegating, and coaching should all be focused on helping an employee to grow in their competence and confidence for improved execution and continual learning.  

3. Enable and ennoble employees.

Managing work means getting work done through other people. It’s only fair that the people who do the work be equipped for it. Managers who neglect to provide adequate training, resources, time, or budget are failing to do their job. If managers don’t enable people, they disable performance and impede progress toward company goals. 

In addition to enabling employees, managers must also ennoble them. To ennoble means to make someone feel worthy and important. Too often, managers make people feel ignoble (of lo value). That’s just wrong.

Ennoblement isn’t all that hard to do, and it doesn’t take much time. It stems from simple gestures like smiling sincerely when you pass an employee in the hall, greeting employees at the start of the day, and asking for input before making decisions that affect them. 

4.Be the supervisor, not the super doer.

Control-freak managers try to do too much of the work themselves. They redo work, intercede in work, and micromanage details. They don’t understand that the job they used to do isn’t the job they’re supposed to be doing now. 

It’s simply not sustainable for a manager to do other people’s work. The more a manager does this, the more they’ll have to do it in the future. That’s because they’re conditioning employees to step back from or hand their work to the manager. They’re communicating that they don’t believe the employee is capable. They’re not building people. Rather, they’re diminishing them and their contributions. 

5. Learn how to simultaneously manage work AND lead people. 

This applies to every supervisor and manager who has direct reports or responsibilities for overseeing the work of others. Getting the work done today isn’t enough. It’s short-term, short-sighted, and inadequate to focus only on managing tasks and checking boxes. 

People need and want leadership from their managers. They want to be inspired and challenged. They need role models. They crave encouragement and, when necessary, correction that helps them do better. 

These are the drivers of employee engagement. Managers who focus first on people have employees who are more engaged. When employees are more engaged, it dramatically benefits the business. 

What Can Organizations Do to Equip Managers for Employee Engagement? 

The blame doesn’t fall on managers alone. 58% of managers have never received any management training (CareerBuilder).  

That means that 58% of managers are imitating what they’ve seen other untrained managers do poorly. It means they’re left to their own devices to fumble their way through each day. It’s no wonder that the stats on employee engagement and managerial effectiveness are so dismal. 

Who’s responsibility is it to get training for managers? Everyone’s! HR, L&D, Senior Managers in any function, the CEO, the parent company… everyone, that is, who cares about employees and wants to retain them plus improve overall company performance. 

If people in senior levels of your organization have never received management training, they may believe others won’t need it either. 

If managers in your organization are already over-taxed, it may seem counterintuitive to pull them away from all that work and into training. 

If company performance isn’t what it needs to be, spending money on training AND taking managers away from their work might seem impossible. 

But if these are the reasons you’re not training managers, you’re never going to see improvement. You’re signing up for continued and worsening employee turnover, morale declines, inadequate productivity levels, resistance to innovation and change, dissatisfied customers, and the myriad outgrowth problems from each of these. 

Strong companies have strong leaders at every level. They invest in training to teach managers how to simultaneously manage work AND lead people. They have strong employee engagement because they make an effort to put PEOPLE first. 

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