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How leaders impact employee engagement – and 3 ways to improve it

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Many companies mistakenly believe that the responsibility to impact employee engagement is solely on the employees’ shoulders — with some help from HR.

While each individual does have the final say on whether they’re engaged at work or not, leadership actually plays the biggest role in engagement levels.

That isn’t just some abstract, intangible claim: studies show that leaders account for 70% of variance in employee engagement scores. That means leadership is the biggest variable in employee engagement.

When leaders focus on building a healthy culture, supporting their people, and creating value-driven work, employee engagement naturally follows. However, when leaders don’t put in that extra employee-centric effort and leave engagement up to the employees, engagement plummets.

How do we impact employee engagement?

It’s not enough to simply state that leaders account for 70% of variance in employee engagement. How exactly does that happen? What aspects of leadership keep employees engaged and what causes disengagement?

Here are some ways leaders affect engagement levels:

  • Employees feeling that their leaders genuinely care about them is the highest driver of engagement. However, only 28% of employees agree that their leaders authentically care for their well-being.
  • 76% of employees with empathetic managers are engaged at work. However, 52% of employees believe that leadership empathy is disingenuous or even dishonest.
  • When employees trust their leaders, they are 50% more productive, 106% more energetic, and 13% less likely to take sick days. However, only 21% of employees have that trust.
  • Employees who feel that their work has a purpose are 4 times more engaged. However, only 22% of employees agree that their leaders share a clear purpose and direction for their organization.
  • When leaders are great at recognizing employee efforts, employees are 40% more engaged. However, 82% of employees don’t feel like they’re recognized enough.

When leaders care about their employees enough to recognize them, help them find purpose at work, understand them and their needs, and trust them, employees are exponentially more engaged.

Looking at it from the opposite point of view, even a responsible, excited, and talented employee with a strong work ethic will struggle to stay engaged if their leaders are uncaring, untrusting, and aloof.

What leaders can do improve engagement?

All of this begs the question: what can leaders actually do to improve engagement? Here are some actionable strategies leaders can implement to boost not just employee engagement levels, but motivation, morale, satisfaction, productivity, and retention levels as well.

Prioritize a healthy culture

Company culture is not simply an HR initiative. Leaders need to prioritize building a healthy, supportive culture to keep employees engaged. Features of these types of cultures include:

  • Inclusive
  • Supportive
  • Fair
  • Respectful
  • Communicative
  • Value-driven
  • Fun

Employees have to enjoy where they work and who they work with. And leaders can take charge of their culture by being examples of these behaviors, driving culture initiatives, and caring for employee well-being.

Create value-driven work

Value-driven work is one of the leading drivers of employee engagement, and leaders can be the catalyst for this type of work. Company values are just words on a wall if leaders don’t embody and reinforce them with their own behaviors and communications.

Managers also play a key role in this by ensuring their employees understand their roles and know how their work contributes to the mission and goals of the company. Employees need to feel that their work matters, and leaders are the key to making that happen.

Make employees feel like individuals

Creating a healthy culture with value-driven work is important, but every employee is an individual with unique wants, needs, skills, and personalities. Leaders need to treat their employees as such. Here are four ways to show employees that you care about them and their happiness:

  • Recognize them in specific, genuine, and rewarding ways for their efforts
  • Be empathetic and understanding about employees’ personal lives and challenges
  • Help employees learn and develop the skills they are most interested in
  • Build trust so that employees feel empowered to do their work in the way that works best for them

Leaders set the tone for the entire company—when that tone is caring, supportive, and understanding, employees will be more engaged. It’s really that simple.

Lead teams to greater engagement

Employee engagement isn’t only on the employees—leaders lay the foundation that employees can build upon by creating a healthy culture, providing value-driven work, and showing care for all employees. Leaders, boost engagement at your company by looking inward to see what you can do to improve your employee experience.

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