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The Effect of Leadership Behaviours on Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is the extent to which employees feel passionate about their jobs, are committed to the organization, and put discretionary effort into their work.

Employee engagement does not mean employee happiness. Someone might be happy at work, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are working hard, productively on behalf of the organization. While celebrating employees’ birthdays and providing perks are fun–and may be beneficial for other reasons–making employees happy is different from making them engaged.

Also, employee engagement does not mean employee satisfaction. A satisfied employee might show up for her daily 8-to-5 without complaint. But that same ‘satisfied’ employee might not go the extra effort on their own, and will probably be easily lured away by a recruiter with a 10% increase in pay. Satisfaction is not enough.

So put in a different way, employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.

This emotional commitment means engaged employees actually care about their work and their organization. They don’t work just for a paycheck, or just for the next promotion, but work on behalf of the organization’s goals.

When employees care—when they are engaged—they use discretionary effort. Examples are: The engaged customer service representative who works overtime when needed, without being asked; the engaged bank officer who visits the office on Saturdays to ensure the ATM works, even if the boss isn’t aware.

Engaged employees have positive impact on key organizational outcomes: profits; customer satisfaction; productivity; innovation; turnover. Hence, an organization with high employee engagement might therefore be expected to outperform those with low employee engagement, all else being equal.

However, as critical as employee engagement is, very few people in leadership roles appreciate its importance and the impact of their behaviours on it.

Based on an accumulation of studies, Gallup findings revealed that the primary determinant of an engaging and high-performing workplace is the team leader. When team leaders exhibit high competence in leadership, employees are 59% more likely to be engaged.

This is primarily because, at each level in the organization, the local manager, supervisor, or head of unit has the ultimate influence over how to communicate expectations, whether employees have a chance to do what they do best, whether individuals have opportunities to develop, and whether people are able to see how their work connects with the organization’s overall mission or purpose.

That’s why the level of engagement fluctuates widely and unnecessarily in many organizations due to lack of consistency in how people are managed in various teams. So, if the team leader is good, the engagement level of the team is relatively high and if the team leader is bad the engagement level is relatively low.

However, it’s not enough to simply label a team leader “good” or “bad.” Organizations need to understand what team leaders are doing in the workplace to create or destroy engagement. Behaviours related to communication, conflict management, and individual strengths of the team leader have strong correlation with employee engagement and give organizations better insights into developing their team leaders and raising the overall level of performance of the business.

Looking at communication for instance, consistent communication – whether it occurs in person, over the phone, or electronically – aids higher engagement. For example, employees whose team leaders hold regular meetings with are almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees whose team leaders do not hold regular meetings with.

But mere transactions between team leaders and their members are not enough to maximize engagement. Employees value communication from their leader not just about their roles and responsibilities but also about what happens in their lives outside of work.

To increase the level of engagement, the best team leaders make a concerted effort to get to know their subordinates and help them feel comfortable talking about any subject, whether it is work related or not. They create a productive team in which people feel safe – safe enough to experiment, to challenge, to share information, and to support one another.

That is how communication, just one of the behaviours of the team leader, affects the level of employee engagement.

Thus, the need for good leadership behaviour and the awareness of how it affects engagement cannot be over emphasized.

In best-practice organizations, engagement is embedded in the weekly performance management of each team and initiated and disseminated from executive leadership. But the day-to-day “engaging” is primarily filtered through the team leader.

Multiple constituencies, including the CEO, other executive members and the individual employee, influence employee engagement. But the primary influence comes from the weekly — and even daily — tone that the team leader sets.

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