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Employee engagement: Why employees leave bosses not companies

By Yvette McKenzie | 29 January 2019

Employee engagement has been a buzz word in management circles for a decade now. Why? Because when employees are engaged at work, they are more satisfied more productive, and happier. Studies have also found that they change jobs less frequently, aim for better promotions and advocate for the company’s culture.

However, there are a lot of things that can get in the way of an employee’s job satisfaction, and having an overbearing, controlling, micro-managing or manipulative boss comes close to the top of the list.

What is employee engagement and why does it matter?

  1. Employees need to feel that they can trust – and also be trusted.
  2. People want to feel valued, and a sense of purpose.
Employee engagement: Why employees leave bosses not companies

Brigette Hyacinth, author of The Future of Leadership: Rise of Automation, Robotics and Artificial Intelligence writes that employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers.

She references a recent Gallup poll that found that employee engagement is actually on the rise in the U.S. The study looked at 1 million workers and found that the most prominent reason that people quit their jobs is because of a “bad” boss or immediate supervisor. 75% of workers who voluntarily left their jobs because of their relationship with their boss, and not because of the position itself.

1. Employees need to feel that they can trust – and also be trusted.

Hyacinth points out that, while employees might think “bigger picture” in a general sense, they can often be caught up in the day-to-day minutiae of a role. “People see the company only through their immediate boss. Employees know when they are on shaky ground. A manager who keeps throwing employees under the bus will create an atmosphere of anxiety and distrust.”

Most workers have had a “bad boss” experience at one stage of their careers, and it tends to stick with them. “Employees want managers who are leaders. Managers who will inspire them, who are fair and honest and will stand up for their team”. When this isn’t happening, workers begin to switch off, and become less engaged in their work. This can have devasting effects across a team if left unaddressed.

2. People want to feel valued, and a sense of purpose.

Employee engagement: Why employees leave bosses not companies

Mark C. Crowley from Fast Company says, that engagement happens in employees’ hearts, not their minds. He points out that, “…it comes down to showing people how their work and contributions impact the success of the entire firm.” He puts this simply by pointing out that, “Disengagement starts with having a confusing job."

Do your employees know where they fit in the bigger picture of your corporate story? Are their opinions often sought? Do they have the chance to offer confidential feedback? “How satisfied workers feel in their jobs now determines their overall happiness with life,” according to Crowley.

A surprising Gallup poll finding saw that remuneration was lower on the employee wish-list than many would have thought. “As a driver of engagement, pay now ranks no higher than fifth in importance to people–in every industrialised country,” according to a recent survey that looked at workers in over 100 countries.

“Having a supervisor that cares about us, our well-being, and personal growth (is essential to job satisfaction.) Without exception, bosses predominantly concerned about their own needs create the lowest levels of employee engagement.”

What is Emotional Currency?

Employee engagement: Why employees leave bosses not companies

The term “Emotional Currency” refers to the unseen, but often felt value that a worker perceives in his or her job. Sometimes known as work-life balance, as digital communication breaks down the barriers between home, work and family life; as well as ambitions and downtime; there has never been a generation more concerned with this metric.

University of North Carolina’s psychology professor, Barbara Fredrickson, explains that, “No emotion is long-lasting and people need to experience positive emotions frequently for engagement to remain high.” An employee needs to have consistency at work.

She points out that, “…eating one stalk of broccoli isn’t enough to make us healthy, (and in the same way) we need a steady diet of these momentary connections to have an impact.”

Making sure your employees are experiencing positive emotions while on the job might be one way of upping your workplaces’ emotional currency. “When people are made to feel cared for, nurtured, and growing, that will serve the organisation well. If you feel uniquely seen, understood, valued and appreciated, then that will hook you into being committed to that team, leader and organisation. This is how positive emotions work.”

Simple things like mentoring programs, flexible workplace policies, clear and transparent rules, and a promotional progression process all allow employees to feel more engaged at work.

How engaged our employees in Australia?

In the recent Trends in Global Employee Engagement report, employee engagement was found to be back on the rise again, at levels matching an all-time high. This study looked at 1000 companies, and over 60 industries, including Australian workers.

“This year, 65% of employees fall into the ‘highly’ or ‘moderately’ engaged categories in the survey, which is a 2-point increase from the previous year across each of the three engagement measures which have been indexed.”

That’s good news for Australian companies, Australian bosses and workers. Continuing the trend of employee engagement should be a focus point for every business towards 2020 and beyond.

Build a better relationship with your boss

Employee engagement: Why employees leave bosses not companies

In a previous SkillsTalk article, we talked about building a strong relationship with your boss.

“Just like you, your boss is only human. Yes they may have more responsibilities, but they still experience and share all the same human feelings as you will feel on a day to day basis. You do not have to be best friends with your boss, but you need to respect them and value their time.”

Here are a few of the steps to take:

  1. Learn from your boss: Make a solid point of always asking them questions, and don’t be afraid to approach them.
  2. Be honest with your boss: Your boss will respect you more for being honest, rather than trying to hide your mistakes.
  3. Don’t have an ego: Lead by example through your actions rather than your words; the best workers always lead by example.
  4. Don’t take credit for other people’s work: Being a good team player means acknowledging co-workers when they succeed.

Could you be a better employee?

SkillsTalk has this covered in our article on 8 ideas to make you a better employee, not just from the perspective of your boss but also your fellow colleagues. Not all of the ideas will be relevant to every work place and situation, but incorporating even one has the potential to speed you up along your career path. From mutual accountability, to “owning” your work space, sharing your schedule, and being productive, there are many easy ways you can become a better employee.

A course in Leadership and Management could enhance your career

Taking time off to study if you lead a team, or have a busy work life, might not always seem possible. At Upskilled, we offer a range of Leadership and Management courses that are 100% online. These range from Graduate Diplomas to Short Courses, and take between 12 months and just 6 months or less to complete.  
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