5 Ways Managers Hurt Employee Engagement Without Even Knowing It

Onboarding employee best practices

By Jason Lauritsen

For most employees, the manager is their most important connection to the organization. Their manager is responsible for helping them understand their role, providing feedback, rating their performance, and often, making decisions about their compensation. The manager is also the employee’s main source of communication about things that might affect them or their job.

This is why managers get a lot of attention in any discussion about employee engagement. The manager isn’t solely responsible for an employee’s engagement, but their actions and behavior can dramatically amplify or dampen it.

For this reason, things that might seem insignificant to a manager can have a major impact on an employee. Below, I’ve outlined five common ways that managers unintentionally hurt engagement. Read carefully so that you can avoid making these mistakes.

1. You never say thank you. In the old school of management, showing up and doing your job wasn’t worthy of recognition or praise. The attitude was “that’s what we pay you for.” Maybe when there were more people than jobs, you could get away with this. But in today’s hyper-competitive job market where people share their work experiences (good, bad, and ugly) on social media, this is a recipe for creating disengagement and turnover. Today, more than ever before, employees have options. Your best employees have many options. Be grateful that they’ve chosen you as their employer and thank them for their investment in your company. Show appreciation early and often.

2. You say one thing but do something else. Employees pay attention to what you say, and they remember when you make a promise. A friend was recently telling me about how the leaders at her company frequently mention that they want to hear ideas from employees at all levels. But when she’s sent ideas to them for consideration, they aren’t even acknowledged. She feels ignored and this has led her to lose trust. She now wonders what else they’ve said that they don’t actually mean. Be very intentional in the expectations you set. Follow through on what you say you will do. If you can’t, say you are sorry and communicate why.

3. You cancel or frequently reschedule meetings with your employees. Time is the currency of relationships. To fully engage employees requires spending time with them. When you cancel meetings, particularly on short notice or with no explanation, the message you send is that something else is more important to you. We make time for the people who matter most. Be very careful about how you treat your time with employees. Which brings me to the next mistake.


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4. You take phone calls or check emails in meetings with employees. Nothing says “you’re just not that important” like answering a phone call during a meeting with your employee. By choosing to answer that call, you’ve said to the employee that whoever is on the other end of that call is more worthy of your time than they are. When you are with employees, be fully present. Shut off your phone and put it away. Close your laptop and get out from behind your desk. Give them your full and undivided attention. Let them know that they are the most important person in your world at that moment.

5. You leave them alone. This one may seem a little counterintuitive at first. After all, most of us desire greater autonomy in our jobs. Nobody wants to be micromanaged. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. Even your best-performing, most independent employees still need to have a relationship with you. It isn’t enough to say, “Find me if you need anything.” If you don’t need to closely manage their day-to-day performance, then talk with them about career development. Or find out what’s important to them outside of work and ask about that. They need to know you value and care for them, even if they don’t show it.

Work is a relationship for employees. They need to feel valued, trusted, and appreciated to be fully engaged and to give you their best effort. Making time to invest in your employee relationships is critical. When employees feel connected with you as their manager, they are more likely to feel connected with and engaged by the organization.

About the Author

Jason Lauritsen is a keynote speaker and employee engagement expert who has dedicated his career to helping leaders and employees create a more fulfilling work experience. For nearly a decade, he spent his days as a corporate Human Resources executive where he developed a reputation for driving business results through talent. Most recently, he led the research team for Quantum Workplace’s Best Places to Work program where he has studied the employee experience at thousands of companies to understand what the best workplaces in the world do differently than the rest.

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