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5 Manager Behaviors That Kill Engagement


Managers are more likely to have daily interactions with employees, and they are usually the benchmark employees use to judge a company’s culture.

Over 2 million people quit their job every month, and the number one reason is the quality of the relationship between them and their direct supervisor. It stands to reason, as managers are more likely to have daily interactions with employees, and they are usually the benchmark employees use to judge a company’s culture. However, only 32 percent of employees are truly engaged in their work, and we suspect it has something to do with these five manager behaviors that kill engagement:

  1. They don’t recognize and reward employees – A recent Interact/Harris Poll of 1,000 US employees saw more than half (63 percent) of respondents agree that not being recognized for achievements was a pressing concern in the workplace. The most basic unspoken agreement in the workplace is the employee does good work, and management recognizes that work with sincerity and compassion, rewarding where appropriate. Managers simply can’t operate in a modern workplace anymore without this essential skill. Before they can do valuable work, employees must first know they are valued – currently, only 20 percent of them feel that way, and a 35 percent consider it the biggest hindrance to their productivity.
  2. They don’t communicate well or at all – It’s just physics: managers who don’t set clear expectations get muddled results. In a European Leaders study, 64 percent of the 2,000 full-time employees surveyed claimed their overall performance would improve if senior management communicated more effectively, and other studies have shown it’s a primary catalyst for morale issues among staff. Without a strong grasp of the fundamentals of communication, managers are ill-equipped to motivate employees.
  3. They don’t practice emotional intelligence – Yelling down or berating an employee should not be a management style anymore. Practicing emotional intelligence involves four key skills: perceiving and expressing emotions, understanding emotions, using emotions, and managing emotions. Many researchers believe proficiency in these skills is more important than overall IQ when it comes to individual success. When a manager can’t express his/her feelings in a professional manner, or stay cool in the face of adversity for that matter, motivation and productivity might as well be off the table.
  4. They micromanage – 59 percent of employees have worked for a micromanager. Of those who have been micromanaged, 68 percent said it decreased morale and 55 percent said it lowered productivity. Micromanagers demotivate employees and create needless paranoia by acting as a controller of behavior instead of a leader of people. Some employees may thrive in that environment, but we’ve never met any. Most micromanagers do so out of a need for control that often has more to do with them than the performance of their employees. So to all those micromanagers out there: stop it please.
  5. They don’t let employees pursue their passions – Many employees, Millennials especially, use their day job to primarily support a parallel career or personal passion of some kind. Providing employees the opportunities and support to pursue their passions greatly improves their overall happiness and productivity. Yet many managers still feel the need to force employees to work within a little box, limiting their ambitions. Like any abusive relationship, they want the employee to believe that there is nowhere else to go and they should give up trying. Smart employees know better, and smart managers know that 65 percent of employees cite a lack of flexibility as a reason for quitting.

Caveat Emptor

Having said all that, it’s important to note that frontline managers don’t have an envious position – sometimes called “America’s most neglected employee”, they are notoriously undertrained and frequently go unrecognized for their contributions. A Root Inc. survey of 200 training executives reported that 83 percent of them had less than a quarter of their training budget set aside for manager training sustainment, but only 18 percent felt they were successful at it. Furthermore, reducing overhead (57 percent) and making technology upgrades (48 percent) were more likely to be prioritized over investments in manager training.

Build Better Leaders

Experts cite the lack of well-trained managers as a main cause for the perennially low engagement levels that plague modern workplaces, but we don’t hang that jacket squarely on them. The problem is systemic – managers need the same kind of motivation and support from senior leaders as they give to employees for the whole feedback mechanism to work properly. All too often organizations promote employees to management without the proper preparation and tools to succeed, and leave them to their own devices. With a little thought and preparation, we can all learn to be better leaders of people.