Are Bad Managers to Blame for Low Employee Engagement?

EngagementAccording to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace study, only 13% of employees are engaged at work. While this number is higher in the US and Canada (29%), those numbers are still surprisingly low. When you think about how much time we spend at work, it’s shocking to realize that so many people are simply slogging through those hours.

As I researched this subject, more and more, the biggest detriment to poor engagement became clear – poor management.

A study by Dale Carnegie Training found the number one factor influencing engagement was employees’ relationships with their immediate supervisors. While poor management shouldn’t be an excuse for lack of engagement, it needs to be addressed for more fulfilled and productive employees.

Why is this such a big problem for so many companies and how can it be improved?

In a recent article from, Gallup CEO Jim Clifton weighed in on his thoughts about leadership and its impact on employee engagement. He states, “What companies will inevitably find is that the only way to make a person happy is to give them a job that matches well to their strengths, a boss who cares about their development, and a mission that gives them feelings of purpose.”

Too often, people in management positions are not hired or promoted because of their skills in managing teams, but simply because of seniority or achievement in their previous role. This begs the question, what are important criteria for promoting employees into management roles?

The Harvard Business Review also found that the emphasis on working hard, putting in long hours and over-extending yourself, doesn’t lead to good management. Executive Coach Marshall Goldsmith found that “many of the behaviors that initially propel high-achievers up the corporate ladder are paradoxically the same ones preventing them from reaching the very top.” He cites behaviors like winning too much and goal obsession can actually be detrimental to good management. There is really a need for more interpersonal skills.

Jim Clifton emphasized the importance these interpersonal skills in managers, stating, “going forward, we must insist on hiring caring managers. Managers must be driven, love productivity, profitability, and competing,” he added, “but they must also have an inclination to maximize the potential of every person on their team.”

A good leader should engage his or her team and find and nurture the strengths in their individual employees. Also, a successful manager provides an employee a sense of where they fit in and the value they provide to the company – something that really encourages engagement and wanting to help the organization succeed.

In an article for the Harvard Business Review Randall Beck and Jim Harter from Gallup found that great managers also “have the assertiveness to drive outcomes and the ability to overcome adversity and resistance” as well as “make decisions based on productivity, not politics.”

They go on to say, however, that Gallup has found that only one in ten people possess the necessary traits to be a good manager. While those odds aren’t good, it still means that there are currently people within your organization who have the right qualities – they may just need some cultivating.

The biggest takeaway from this research is the need to stop and think before handing out promotions. Promote not just because someone is good in their current role, but also for their management skills. And for those employees with potential, it’s important to provide extra training.

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