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January 3, 2019

3 Manager Mistakes that Cause Low Employee Engagement


NSCA encourages members to play a stronger role in talent retention by improving company culture and avoiding these employee engagement missteps.

Did you know that bad management is typically the root cause of low employee engagement?

If you’ve made organizational changes to improve engagement, but some of your employees remain withdrawn, you may need to revisit what’s happening at the local work group level, which is directed by your managers.

Addressing employee engagement issues may not be a simple fix. The causes can be complex, and each case may spring from unique issues. As a manager, you must determine the reasons behind unacceptable employee engagement before you can take steps to improve it.

Increasing employee engagement may not rest solely on the employee. If you find the following behaviors present among your managers, then the issue may be among your leadership team.

3 Ways Your Managers Might Foster Low Employee Engagement

1. Erratic expectations

Good managers convey consistent expectations to employees. Those expectations must be realistic, clear, and concise.

But, sometimes, a manager is lenient one day and tough the next. Or, when an employee finishes a project, they change the scope and ask the employee to start over. It’s not only a matter of steadily raising the bar but also treating the same employee behaviors differently at various times.

For example, an employee may turn in the same report every month with little response from the manager. Then, one month, the manager critiques it closely without acknowledging the change in expectations.

When lacking predictable expectations, employees often become disengaged because they don’t know how to prioritize their efforts. This kind of response can lead to employee disengagement.

The key to maintaining consistency is communication. While there may be times when that report requires little feedback from you, it’s important the employee knows why.

Expectations can change. Goals can change. The requirements of the organization can change. These need to be communicated to the employee; that way, they gain understanding.

Tell them frankly when you are aware of changes. Let them know what changed and why everyone has to adjust. Solicit their feedback.

The more you can involve employees in the process of change, especially around expectations and goals, the more success you’ll have getting them on board in a timely fashion.

2. Favoritism

It’s human nature to enjoy working with some employees more than others. You’re going to get along with certain people better than you get along with others.

But, similar to having erratic expectations, managers sometimes give a different response to the same behavior from different employees due to personality preferences.

For example, when two employees ask their manager what they know about a piece of company news at separate times, the manager may share more information with one than the other.

Whether it’s heavier praise or lighter critique, inconsistent responses can create an unfair environment—a real injury to employee engagement.

Perception is important, even though it may not match the reality. You may think you’re not playing favorites, but appearances may suggest otherwise. The way to manage through this is to be consistent. Consistency is always the key to making sure you don’t appear to have favorites.

If you’re consistent with everyone, and you share information with one person the same way you share it with all the others (barring confidential matters, of course), employees will come to understand that you’re not doing things covertly and your leadership is above board.

3. Micromanagement

This is a challenging area, particularly for people who have a high need for control. They tend to struggle with micromanagement. These employees may feel that you don’t trust them or think have the acumen or ability to do the job effectively.

This can lead to disengagement. If your managers insist on controlling every detail of their work, the employee may eventually shut down and lose interest in their job.

Supervisors who micromanage may, in fact, be convinced that no one can do the job better than they can. They may feel overwhelmed by team performance expectations. This can make them feel insecure and cause them to place unnecessary pressure on employees.

The bottom line is this: Micromanagement can foster low engagement. It prevents not only the employee from being fully engaged, but also the manager, who winds up spending too much time on supervision and not enough on developing employees.

Micromanagement is slowly exiting the workforce as generational needs shift. For example, where Baby Boomers typically want to check the boxes, Millennials tend to be more hands off in their workstyles. Good managers learn employees’ traits and lead accordingly.

Remember, micromanagement is also a lack of communication. By not clearly conveying what’s required, a manager can become too hands on—and that’s a well-beaten path to employee disengagement.

Abe Turner is an innovation and development manager for Insperity, an NSCA Business Accelerator.

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