At most organizations, HR or C-level leaders enact employee engagement strategies, and for good reason: Having a uniform employee engagement strategy across an organization is more actionable and creates a definition of engagement that’s unique to the company’s mission and values.
However, that’s not always the arrangement. Over the past few years, TINYpulse has observed that middle managers – a broad group that includes department heads and team leaders – are increasingly leading the employee engagement charge. We recently decided to dig into this by surveying our clients to see if we could put data around our anecdotal observations. In a new white paper, we report on the frequency of managers driving employee engagement practices and look at how those efforts pay off. We also polled 500 U.S. employees about whether they want their direct manager to do something about employee engagement – and the poll revealed they definitely do.
Here are four reasons we found that show why organizations might want to consider letting middle-level managers handle employee engagement themselves:
They know their teams best
As part of our research, we interviewed over a dozen middle-level managers of our clients about why they chose to do something about employee engagement with their employees. Many told us it’s because they know their teams well, so it makes sense for them to do everything they can to help them do their best work. One manager, a team leader at an animation studio, told us, “I wanted a way to keep a connection with the team. Plus, I have been interested in ways to keep people engaged and address issues before they get too big.”
There are direct benefits
We asked the question, “Are employees who work for middle managers who implement employee engagement strategies at an advantage?” To answer the question, we did a statistical analysis of the responses to TINYpulse engagement surveys completed by employees on middle manager-led teams and compared them with employees where HR or a C-level manager leads engagement. The middle-led employees’ responses were more positive in terms of work-life balance, career growth potential, and the responsiveness of managers to their needs. We also found that they are 20% less likely to quit over pay, however the sample size for this questions was too small to draw any strong conclusions.
It’s already common
Going outside what we observed with our own clients, we commissioned a poll of 502 U.S. workers, asking if their direct manager had implemented an employee engagement strategy at work. Close to 70% answered “yes.” Of that 69%, the top three employee engagement tactics implemented were employee recognition, soliciting regular feedback, and providing career path development and training.
Employees want managers to do it
Looking at the 31% who told us their manager had not implemented an engagement strategy, a majority of that group (53%) told us that they would want their manager to do something. We also asked the “no” group what bothers them most about work, and the top issues were pay, communication, and lack of recognition. Those answers line up with some of the benefits we saw in looking at responses to TINYpulse questions (more responsive managers, less likely to quit over pay).
We found some good evidence to support the view that middle-level managers should take the reins on employee engagement, but there were some cautions. Among the TINYpulse clients, middle-led employees feel slightly less valued and were slightly less happy; on the question, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you at work?” middle-led employees rated themselves 7.39, compared to all others at 7.56.
There’s also the risk that a middle-manager handling engagement could undermine larger organization-wide strategies. However, the evidence shows that middle-managers still stand to gain by leading engagement initiatives.