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Good Bosses: The Key To Employee Engagement

By Melissa J. Anderson

How can you make sure your employees love their jobs and aren’t at risk of attrition? According to a new study by the Center for Creative Leadership and Booz Allen Hamilton, the key is to be a good boss. “Employee Engagement: Has It Been a Bull Market”[PDF] tracked a number of factors leading to job satisfaction – and concluded, somewhat predictably, that good leadership is a key factor in retaining high performing employees.

According to John Ryan, President of the Center for Creative Leadership, “The greatest predictor of how long talented workers will stick around, however, is the relationship they have with their immediate boss.”

He continued, “Among those who strongly agreed that they work for a manager who cares about their well-being, 94 percent said they intend to stay with their current employer. Of those who strongly disagreed that their manager cared about their well-being, just 43 percent planned to stick around.”

The data emphasizes the importance of keeping employees happy coming out of the recession. The researchers found that, surprisingly, the highest levels of employee engagement corresponded to the highest number mass layoffs.

Additionally, “The pattern of engagement is the reverse of the pattern of key economic indicators. As the [Dow Jones Industrial Average] was falling, engagement was on the rise. In the same quarter that the DJIA reached a two-year low, engagement reached a two-year high.”

Via CCL, Employee Engagement: Has It Been a Bull Market

The researchers compared this behavior to the “paradox of choice,” wherein the fewer choices an individual has, the more likely they are to be happy with their ultimate decision – when people were more at risk to lose their job, they were happy to stay put. But as more opportunities seem to become available, that inkling to move to a new role is rising.

The report says that whether employees ultimately stay comes down to the boss – and to make sure they’re doing a good job, companies should make sure leaders are trained to manage staff appropriately.

Fortunately, shortly following the release of CCL study, Adecco released another poll (of 700 employees and 300 bosses) revealing a few telling statistics on how workers see their managers – and where managers may be missing a few cues.

For example, Austin Carr of Fast Company explains,

“Only 15% of bosses described their own management style as commanding. About 23% of employees, on the other hand, reported their boss’s style to be commanding, and just 11% said being commanding was the desired style. ‘Bosses may not recognize how bossy they actually are,’ the report says.”

Paying attention to communication style is one important factor – and so is a willingness to engage in production. Carr continues,

“Bosses must be willing to get their hands dirty. When asked whether a good boss is willing to roll up his or her sleeves to help the team get the job done, nearly three-quarters completely agreed, with another 14% somewhat agreeing.”

And finally, bosses shouldn’t assume that their employees are out to follow in their footsteps. A full 70% of respondents reported that they were not aspiring to their boss’s job. Interestingly, respondents with children showed more interest in their boss’ job (39%), than those without children (23%).

But as both of these studies make clear, keeping employees happy is no longer just about compensation. Employees expected to be treated well personally – and senior level staff would do well to focus on becoming effective managers. As Ryan wrote:

“As conditions improve, it’s tempting and indeed necessary to charge ahead with innovative products, marketing campaigns, and improved business processes. Still, in the flurry of activity, it’s crucial not to lose sight of the wishes and needs of the women and men who are ultimately the cornerstone of our success. When they are satisfied, focused, and engaged, you see the results in the bottom line.”

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