How To Encourage Employee Engagement Through Leadership

leadership and employee engagementHR managers are always looking for ways to improve employee engagement and no wonder. Engaged employees are happier and more productive and ultimately create more resilient organizations.

What’s more, engaged employees are more likely to describe their company as a great place to work. That makes it more likely for a company to attract other bright and engaged employees.

Leadership has a lot to do in encouraging employee engagement. Great leaders inspire and motivate those around them to do their best, too. Think of the devotion Steve Jobs inspired among Apple fans, or the way the fans and employees of Oprah rally around her.

Here’s how HR can help leaders promote engagement and make for a healthier and more productive workplace.

Employee Engagement: Not to Be Overlooked

In case it needs repeating: employee engagement is really important. Consider these stats: 69% of disengaged employees would move to a different employer for as little as a 5% pay increase, while it would take a 20% growth in salary to attract a highly engaged employee.

The data clearly show the importance of employee engagement. Gallup has found a connection between employee engagement and a whole host of performance outcomes, including:

  • customer ratings
  • profitability
  • productivity
  • employee turnover
  • safety incidents
  • shrinkage (theft)
  • absenteeism

Gallup also found that companies with more highly engaged employees fared better as the economy began to recover in 2009 than did companies with less engaged employees. In other words, highly engaged employees are a competitive advantage, particularly when rebounding from tough economic times.

How Leaders Can Improve Employee Engagement

Employee engagement initiatives are not something to be left to HR alone. Aon Hewitt research shows a “multiplier effect” for senior leadership being involved in employee engagement; engagement initiatives will be much more successful with senior leaders involved.

As Aon Hewitt explains, “Senior leadership involvement demonstrates the organization’s commitment and brings to life initiatives that drive employee engagement.”

Senior leaders steer the ship. With their involvement, it is much easier to steer employee engagement in a positive direction.

Mind the Employee Engagement Gap With Measurement

When starting to look at employee engagement, look at hierarchy. Aon Hewitt also found that there’s an employee engagement gap: senior employees at an organization are more likely to be engaged than are junior employees. Broadly speaking, executives are the most engaged, followed by middle managers, with front-line employees the least engaged.

While senior management has a critical role in improving employee engagement, because they are the most engaged, they may have a hard time understanding the severity of an engagement problem. This can be exacerbated in low-performing organizations, where the engagement gap is bigger.

This can mean a company’s HR department has to clearly show executive management evidence of employee disengagement, and what impact that has on the company. Executives may not “get it” immediately.

For this and many other reasons, it is necessary to measure employee engagement, through mechanisms such as:

    • Questionnaires and face-to-face interviews. These can be good to hear what employees think but may suffer if employees say what they think their employer wants to hear.


  • The number of connections employees have with those outside their team or region. Broad networks beyond an employee’s immediate team is a sign of high engagement.
  • How often employees participate in ad-hoc meetings and initiatives. An employee who only participates in recurring or highly structured meetings may be less engaged.
  • Time spent working with customers or colleagues outside of the normal scope of work. This can show that people are engaged enough to help with work even though they may not receive credit for it.

This data will provide an overview of how engaged employees truly are, and will also show you how large or small is the engagement gap in your organization.

Create an Action Plan, Led by Those at the Top

Use the information your company learned from measuring employee engagement to put together an employee engagement action plan.

Senior leaders need to be actively involved in this plan by defining its goals and communicating them to staff. They also need to model the behaviors from the plan to those around them; particularly to middle managers, who will then be able to understand the behaviors and actions that build more engaged teams.

It is important that senior leaders:

    • Encourage one-on-one meetings. As companies branch off from traditional review structures that often don’t work, employees will receive more time with their boss; they usually feel more engaged.
    • Cut out the middle manager where possible. Engagement increases as employees get more exposure to colleagues further up the ladder. Where they can, senior managers should make an effort to meet with as many employees under them.
    • Cultivate their own networks within the organization. Employees of well-connected managers are often more engaged. This may be because they are more aware of what is going on in other parts of the organization and are less likely to be working in a silo.


  • Prioritize communication. Open, transparent and frequent communication from the top makes for more engaged employees all the way through the organization. It is important for leaders to regularly communicate with employees about the vision and goals of the organization. Put another way; it’s the responsibility of leaders to rally the troops.
  • Dedicate resources to employee engagement. Employee engagement needs more than lip service. It requires human and financial resources to continuously measure and improve.

Just as it’s hard to overstate the benefits of an engaged workforce, it’s hard to overstate the benefits of having senior management involved in building that engaged workforce. Research shows more than 80% of top companies have a strategy for improving leadership engagement compared to only 65% of other companies.

High-performing companies see the link between leadership and engagement, and it makes all the difference. Engagement starts at the top, supported by a motivated HR department.

Author: Chris Lennon

Chris Lennon is Vice President of Product Management at BirdDogHR. He is responsible for ensuring the BirdDogHR Talent Management System meets the needs and exceeds the expectations of our customers. He does this by working directly with customers and partners, identifying key market opportunities, developing product strategies and bringing exciting new products, features and partnerships to market.

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