In the year 2000, Gallup first started reporting on engagement in the workplace in the United States. Since then, they’ve repeatedly found that less than 33 percent of workers are engaged in their jobs.
In other words, the majority of people are not engaged at work–and this is incredibly costly to employers.
Gallup has repeatedly found links between employee engagement and critical business metrics, including higher profitability; increased productivity; higher quality (fewer defects); lower turnover; less absenteeism and shrinkage (i.e. theft); fewer safety incidents; and more.
Bottom line: “When a company raises employee engagement levels … everything gets better.”
So how do you increase engagement quickly, consistently, and long-term?
You improve the quality of your managers.
The truth is, the employee/manager relationship is one of the most critical at work. If you don’t like or trust your manager, you’re not only less likely to be productive, but you’re far more likely to quit. The old adage is true: People don’t quit jobs, they quit managers.
And what’s one of the most important things managers can do?
It sounds obvious, but Gallup has found that people whose managers meet with them regularly are three times as likely to be engaged.
When I worked at a big tech startup a few years ago, I became friends with a guy named Aaron, who had recently become a manager in the engineering department.
He said he was overwhelmed because he had at least twelve people under him now, and he had committed to keeping a standing 15-minute one-on-one meeting with each of them weekly. This took up a lot of his time.
But the first thing I thought was, “That’s incredibly smart.”
Why? Because I knew he was going to prevent a ton of problems that way. If he showed up to those one-on-ones with an open mind, ready to listen, he was going to hear about little things before they became big things. He was going to have his finger on the pulse of the team both individually and as a team.
He was going to be able to support his people as they went along, instead of after something had become intolerable.
It’s also vital to talk about how the manager shows up in these meetings.
According to a 2019 employee engagement report by TinyPULSE, “How comfortable employees feel about providing upward feedback to their supervisors is a major indicator of overall happiness.”
In other words, you must train your managers on how to make it safe for their people to communicate openly and honestly with them. And yes, this is train-able.
For example, the CEO of CollegeWise, a company with a nearly 0 percent turnover rate, says, “We make it part of every manager’s responsibility to sit down and have one-to-ones with employees where the manager comes only with questions, and it’s the manager’s job to empathize and to learn.”
They explicitly make it part of a manager’s responsibility to empathize and learn from their people. They put empathy front and center, and they have exceedingly engaged, loyal, happy, productive employees.
“Bad managers cost businesses billions of dollars each year, and having too many of them can bring down a company,” says Gallup.
If you’re serious about engagement, you’ve got to start taking these kinds of “soft skills” in your managers very, very seriously.
They’re the very foundation of joy at work.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.