Employee EngagementWhenever we poll leadership audiences on how many of their organizations are concerned about employee engagement, most report this is as a vital issue. It’s been well documented that highly engaged employees lead to much higher levels of productivity, customer service, innovation, and quality with lower levels of turnover and absenteeism.

To boost mediocre or slipping engagement levels, many organizations look at pay, benefits, career development, working conditions, flexible schedules, childcare, or work-life balance. These factors do have some influence on engagement.

However, the single biggest variable is the immediate manager or supervisor. The daily work environment — how team members treat each other, respect, trust, communication, relationships, shared ownership for group goals, understanding and buying-in to the why of changes, autonomy, having a say in daily work, job design — are paramount to engagement.

These critical factors are determined by the local leader. This chart shows the direct and profound relationship between a leader’s effectiveness and the engagement of his or her direct reports:

The bottom axis of this chart shows how about 250,000 people assessed the effectiveness of 23,800 leaders through 360 feedback assessments. The raters included the leader’s manager, peers, direct reports, and others who work with him or her. The left vertical axis shows only how direct reports of these leaders rate their levels of satisfaction, engagement, and commitment.

To see a 2:20 minute excerpt of me explaining this chart at a workshop, click on The Impact of Leadership on Employee Engagement.

We’ve consistently seen this pattern over many years across all industries in large or smaller organizations. The message is clear; the single biggest employee engagement variable is the boss. Improve his or her leadership effectiveness and engagement increases. People join an organization but quit their boss.

Rather than quitting and leaving the organizations, many people quit and stay. This on-the-job-retirement or doing the least required to stay employed carries a huge cost.