Manager's influence on employees' engagement levels

Numerous studies of employee engagement have identified the impact of the supervisor, manager or leader as one of the drivers of employee engagement (Baumruk, 2004, 2006; Kahn, 1990; Menguc et al., 2013; Strom et al., 2014; Tims et al., 2011; Tuckey, Bakker, & Dollard, 2012; Vincent-Höper et al., 2012; Xu et al., 2011); however, there are elements within a person’s work that can make them engaged and other aspects that can make them disengaged, hence creating fluctuations in their engagement levels.

We wanted to explore this theory in practice and in her recent masters’ research, Caryn Conidaris studied five cases of managers and their teams in terms of the coaching behaviours the managers used and engagement levels. One of the findings was around fluctuations in engagement and manager’s influence on that. Fluctuations in engagement occurred in all five of the cases studied and these fluctuations were caused by different factors, but most importantly including manager’s coaching behaviours or lack thereof.

In one case, the challenging context and budget cuts influenced engagement and raised stress levels for all the study respondents. People lost energy when value was not placed on their work and were energised when the manager coached them by explaining the big picture, creating new perspectives on delivering, used a sense of humour, and, utilised a deep reflective coaching practice.  In another case, the manager created an engaging environment through idea generation, brainstorming, coaching and feedback with the whole team and also made them laugh, which relieved stress of their otherwise time pressured environment. Work was swopped when someone was out of flow which provided relief.  In another case, the workload and stress of being under-resourced did not allow time for coaching by the manager which resulted in varying engagement levels.

Workplaces are complicated and it’s only natural that employees’ engagement levels fluctuate depending on what’s going on their lives, in the organisation, in their daily work. However, if managers want to increase their teams’ engagement levels, they need to be cognisant of not becoming the cause of lower engagement levels themselves or how their coaching behaviours can mitigate drop in engagement levels caused by other influences. Well-developed managerial coaching abilities have the potential to positively influence fluctuations in engagement levels no matter what causes them.

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