Employee engagement and leadership - Outposts

Before we discuss the relationship between leadership and employee engagement, let’s start with a definition. A quick search on the internet came up with a few but I like this one from the Business Directory:

“Employee engagement is the emotional connection an employee feels toward his or her employment organisation, which tends to influence his or her behaviours and level of effort in work related activities.”

That is to say, it is not about happiness in the workplace. That could easily be to do with a great relationship between colleagues who are nonetheless still not motivated to be productive. They may love working together but altogether loathe working.

So how are engagement and leadership linked? Surely pay is the top factor in employees being motivated to stay? Surprisingly studies have shown that it is not financial remuneration that is top of the list when it comes to employee engagement. Where psychological factors such on-going learning opportunities to better their position within the company rank highly, the overwhelming factor is the boss. Engagement seems to be inextricably linked to the confidence employees have in not only their direct line manager but senior management. Good leadership is therefore vital in creating an engaged and thus an innovative, productive and efficient workforce.

This point is illustrated in a report carried out by Aon Hewitt in 2011 – The Multiplier Effect. Insights into How Senior Leaders Drive Employee Engagement Higher (I would argue it is still highly relevant even five years on) …

“analysis of companies with strong financial results shows that one distinguishing feature is the quality of their senior management. In particular, we see that senior managers’ levels of engagement are high and their ability to engage others in the organisation, particularly those in middle management, is strong. And it does not stop there: engaged managers are more likely to build engaged teams. In short, engagement starts at top, and without engaged senior leadership, companies will not be able to engage the hearts and minds of their employees.”

So what should employee engagement look like?

ACAS give a common-sense summary, essentially saying that engagement isn’t something that can be imposed it is about creating a company culture built around enabling engagement.

With that in mind, I believe there are few questions leaders should ask themselves to help achieve that culture shift:

  • Do you communicate with your staff and more importantly do you allow them to communicate with you? Do you listening to what they’ve got to say? They are at the coal face so to speak – they know what works and what doesn’t. Listening will help empower them and you’ll harness their knowledge to drive innovation.
  • Do your line managers relate to their staff?
  • What emphasis does your company place on soft skills such as listening, confidence-building and therefore empowering?
  • Are your managers trained in management and leadership or have they simply risen through the ranks? Being good at your job doesn’t necessarily make you a good leader.
  • Is there trust? Integrity is vital to build trust and trust leads to commitment and commitment to productivity.

“A good leader values employee happiness. A great leader values the employee engagement that results from that happiness.”*

That brings us neatly back to the quote at the top. It’s all about how their feelings towards their job (and boss) affect their performance. So to summarise – great leadership = engaged employees.

*Andre Lavoie – Entrepreneur; CEO and Co-Founder, ClearCompany