Motivating managers can be a crucial factor in boosting staff engagement, says Victoria Furness
Employee engagement might sound as if it is all about employees but, in reality, it is more of an issue for managers, given their profound influence on staff engagement levels.
A belief that senior management is sincerely interested in employee wellbeing was the number one driver of engagement worldwide, according to Towers Perrin’s Global workforce study, published in October 2007.
Research from the Kenexa Research Institute, based on an analysis of data from its WorkTrends survey, published in November 2007, also found that a line manager has an influence on staff beyond the role of delegator, evaluator and motivator, to the extent that his or her actions can impact on employees’ engagement and overall view of their employer. Nick Thompson, research director at Kenexa, says: “A manager can engage a team to the extent they feel far better about things a lot of people think are beyond the control of a manager, such as an understanding of the company vision [and] perceptions of pay and benefits.”
It is something of a worry then, that only 29% of employee respondents to the aforementioned Towers Perrin survey believe senior managers have their wellbeing at heart, with more than 60% saying instead they feel senior management ‘treats us as another part of the organisation to be managed’ or ‘as if we don’t matter’.
David MacLeod, a senior adviser at Towers Perrin, says: “Managers have an incredibly important role in getting the best out of their employees, and line managers themselves can only do a good job if senior management is paying a lot of attention to them and putting a lot of effort into motivating them.”
Carrying out an engagement survey is one way to identify any under-performing areas in an organisation. However, employers must then act on the findings and motivate their managers to work to boost staff engagement levels. Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School, says: “If you want to get managers motivated, you have to think about the drivers in their life: do they want to move up the greasy pole, earn more money or have more status, for instance? Most people in managerial roles are achievement driven so managers need some sort of incentive to motivate staff.”
Some employers, such as Somerfield, use financial incentives to motivate managers in order to boost staff engagement. Emma Hine, senior HR and reward manager at Somerfield, says: “We measure managers on how effectively they lead their people. To reinforce this, we link a proportion of the annual bonus to levels of employee engagement. In doing this, managers are incentivised to maximise their teams’ performance, helping to deliver the best possible experience for customers.”
A proportion of every manager’s annual bonus, except for those working in its support centre, is now linked to levels of employee engagement. These are measured twice a year through Somerfield’s employee opinion survey and if a manager achieves his or her engagement target, he or she receives that element of the bonus. “The process is not simply about making managers accountable for their teams, but it is about ensuring they and their teams understand the impact their behaviour has on the business as a whole, and motivating them to make a difference where they can. Increased sales year-on-year suggest that a targeted focus on engagement is complementing our focus on convenience shopping effectively,” says Hine.
But not everyone is convinced that tying performance-related pay to engagement is the best approach. Thompson says: “At a senior level it can be very effective, but we have seen evidence it can lead to some bad practices. Engagement is a behaviour change process that leads to increased performance, it’s not about achieving a higher score in [a] survey.”
Instead, he advocates using training and education to engage and motivate managers.
Both achievement and non-achievement-driven factors have a role to play in engaging managers, and many employers will use both. Unlike most other (largely financial-based) targets that drive managers, however, engagement needs to be continually developed and refined.
Staff perceptions of management
Top drivers of employees’ perception of senior management
• Senior management is sincerely interested in employee wellbeing.
• Senior management communicates openly and honestly.
• Senior management tries to be visible and accessible.
Top drivers of employees’ overall perception of immediate manager
• Manager treats people with respect.
• Manager understands what motivates staff.
• Manager empowers people to take initiative.