We have a saying here at E3: Employees join companies and quit managers. When it comes to engagement and retention, managers are the key pivot point for employees. Gallup has found that 70 percent of the variance in engagement relates to the relationship between a manager and his or her team. Let’s explore this further.

An engagement problem is typically a poorly-trained-manager problem

We understand that managers at all levels in today’s organizations are just trying to keep up. They’re trying to uphold an already full plate of responsibilities and look for tips to manage people in their “spare time” – often because they were promoted without instructions on how to manage effectively. The promotion process in most organizations is no more sophisticated than assessing which of the candidates has had the longest tenure. Although this isn’t necessarily the manager’s fault, it still carries serious consequences.

Why a manager’s influence matters most

While an organization may have a great overall culture, if an individual in the organization works in a microculture under a pernicious manager, that person is not going to feel the positive impacts of the enterprise environment. This is how managers can hijack the positive cultural attributes of an organization and do things that are quite destructive.

The reverse is also true. An employee may work for a terrific manager who has created a microculture of trust, collaboration, consistency, and predictability, while the larger enterprise culture is damaging. In this scenario, the manager’s microculture insulates team members from the toxicity of the larger culture. However, it should be noted there is a high metabolic cost to the manager in this insulating role — it’s extremely exhausting.

The key is to create congruence among the subcultures (team, department, location) and enterprise culture. This creates a safe haven environment that will support employee engagement efforts.

Quick wins to build your best work culture

The most important thing a manager can do to create a healthy culture is promote the conditions that make employees feel safe. Assuming physical safety is already taken care of, the focus here is on emotional safety. One of the easiest ways a manager can do this right away is by increasing predictability and consistency in their attitude and behaviors.

If employees report to a manager whose actions and mood are unpredictable, that’s crazy-making for the brain, and those employees will rarely reach their full potential. On the other hand, if employees know what they can expect from you, this puts their brain’s “threat detection” at rest, allowing more mental energy for quality work.

Another vital aspect of engagement is how (and how often) employees receive recognition and validation. Direct supervisors play a critical role in acknowledging exemplary work habits because they are the ones in leadership positions who tend to be closer and have more daily contact with the rank-and-file employees. As providers of validation, recognition, and feedback, their role can be more direct and have more impact than senior leaders in the organization. Members of the senior leadership team tend to be focused on the strategic aspects of the business; they’re not actively, intentionally supervising individuals since much of their attention is rightfully focused on creating strategic direction, a healthy culture, and (hopefully) consistently expressed core values.

Above all, strive for balance

Realistically, this pivotal role of a manager has become even more difficult as reporting responsibilities intensify: metrics, increasing data complexity, utilization rates, etc. The more time managers spend with these cognitive tasks, the less they can impact how people feel and perform when they get to work. If employees have a supervisor who is good with numbers but not with the relational aspects, they’re typically going to be less engaged. If they have a manager who is all relational but can’t manage numbers, they’ll feel less supported. Without balance, higher levels of employee engagement will prove elusive.

Key Takeaways

  • As a manager, you are the key to engagement on your team.
  • To build a highly engaged workplace, managers must support predictability, consistency, fairness, recognition, and secure connections with others.
  • We created the Manager Resource Center to support you, the manager, in creating the type of environment that is engaged and productive. This curated and resource-filled portal will help you hone your leadership skills.