November 15, 2023
March 1, 2024

The Role of Leadership in Employee Engagement

This is some text inside of a div block.
Get Started with Awardco
Get a Demo

Have you ever wondered how you can get your employees more engaged in their work and in the company? While there’s no magic answer to this question, an important solution for many businesses may be unexpected: leadership.

Leadership, from executives to managers, plays a big role in employee engagement. So big, in fact, that over 70% of variance in employee engagement levels can be attributed to leaders. So while the final decision to be engaged or not belongs to each employee individually, leaders can heavily influence that decision in multiple ways.

What you’ll learn from this post includes:

  • What employee engagement is
  • The specific impact of leaders on engagement
  • Strategies for leaders to boost engagement
  • Examples of engaged leaders

What Is Employee Engagement?

Employee engagement is how emotionally and mentally invested an employee is toward their work and the success of the company as a whole. Engaged employees always give their best efforts and frequently look for ways to go above and beyond. Disengaged employees, on the other hand, do the bare minimum of what’s expected, avoid collaboration, and rarely exceed expectations.

It’s about energy, not time; meaning, an engaged employee and a disengaged employee will both spend the same 40 hours a week at work, but one will have the energy to excel and the other will barely scrape by.

Hopefully, you can see why having an organization filled with engaged employees is so much better than settling for disengaged people.

What Is Engagement in Leadership?

It’s not just direct reports who need to be engaged. Leaders need to be engaged too, especially if you want that engagement to trickle from the top down. So what does engagement look like in business leaders?

  • Leaders who have a strong sense of purpose and are committed to their values
  • Leaders who take a genuine interest in people’s lives
  • Leaders who are positive, supportive, and make people feel good about themselves
  • Leaders who empower employees to do and be their best
  • Leaders who are empathetic and have a high emotional intelligence
  • Leaders who prioritize organizational health over hustle culture

Engaged leaders care not only about the success of the company, but they care about the success and happiness of each individual who works for them.

What Are the Benefits of Employee Engagement?

The benefits of employee engagement are as follows:

  • 18% higher productivity
  • 23% higher profitability
  • 43% lower turnover
  • 81% less absenteeism
  • 60% fewer mistakes

Engaged employees are those who know they’re valued, appreciated, supported, and wanted, and they reciprocate by enjoying their work and putting in great effort. It’s really a win-win.

The Impact Leaders Have on Employee Engagement

As we mentioned, leaders account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores. That right there shows that when leaders are engaged, supportive, and trusting, the majority of employees will respond with more engagement. It’s that simple.

Let’s look a few more stats:

  • The single highest driver of employee engagement is whether employees feel that their leaders are genuinely interested in them. However, only 28% of employees agree that leadership genuinely cares about them.
  • Employees who feel a purpose at work are 4X more engaged. However, only 22% of employees agree that leaders have a clear direction and purpose for their organization.
  • 76% of employees with empathetic managers are engaged. However, 52% of employees believe leadership empathy is disingenuous or dishonest.
  • When employees trust leadership, they are 50% more productive, 106% more energetic, and 13% less likely to take a sick day. However, only 21% of employees trust the leaders in their organization.

Leaders who genuinely care about their employees, reinforce the purpose of work, are empathetic to employees’ lives, and who build and maintain trust will build engagement.

6 Ways Leaders Can Boost Employee Engagement

This all may sound intimidating—but the good news is, leaders have actionable strategies they can implement to boost employee engagement. These strategies aren’t employee-centric—rather, they’re focused on what leadership best practices that will naturally boost engagement levels.

1. Build Trust

Leadership needs to nurture relationships and build trust with as many employees as possible. To do so, they should ask for and listen to employee input; take action on employee feedback; communicate in a transparent manner; model the behaviors they want to see; and be consistent in these behaviors for weeks, months, years, etc.

2. Prioritize Employee and Organizational Well-Being

Leaders should set productivity expectations and healthy goals, but they should always prioritize employee well-being and organizational health over a hustle culture. Employees will be more engaged, less stressed, and less burned out when leaders focus on keeping them happy and healthy instead of on the bottom line.

3. Show Appreciation for Employee Effort

Employees are 4X as engaged when they feel recognized for their work. Leaders who strive to make employees feel seen, appreciated, and valued will see engagement levels rise. Don’t delegate this important responsibility to only HR professionals or lower-level managers—employees respond best when recognition comes from direct bosses and senior leaders.

4. Be Enthusiastic and Purpose-Driven in Your Work

Employees should be able to tell that their leaders believe in the work they’re doing. Leaders need to care about the company, support its mission, and ensure everyone understands the value of their work. After all, 75% of employees think core values are extremely important for the company, so leaders need to reinforce those values through the work they do.

5. Practice Emotional Intelligence

Emotionally intelligent leaders control their own emotions and are aware of their own behaviors. They are empathetic to others’ emotions and needs, and they know how to develop healthy relationships, communicate clearly, and manage conflict. Emotional intelligence leads to engaged employees, so implement training for leaders to improve.

6. Regularly Check In With Employees

Leaders should regularly hold one-on-ones and check-ins to talk with their employees. These are perfect times to practice transparent communication, trust, and empathy. Talk with employees. Get to know them and their personal lives. Find out what they’re looking for at work. Help them accomplish their professional goals and aspirations.

Leaders Can Craft Engaged Workforces

With engagement levels dropping to a historic low of 32%, good leaders are needed now more than ever. Business leaders and managers have a big influence on how engaged employees are. By building trust, showing appreciation, providing purpose, and prioritizing well-being, leaders will create an environment where their employees can be engaged in a healthy, sustainable way.

Jefferson Hansen
More from Author

An avid lover of fantasy books, a proud Hufflepuff, and a strong proponent of escapism, Jeff has a love of good storytelling. He relies on that for both his professional work and his writing hobby (don’t ask about the 10+ novel ideas collecting virtual dust on his computer).