As a Manager, Here Is How to Keep Employees Engaged

For many managers, engagement means getting employees to do what you want. But this is the wrong strategy.

learn more about Tracy Maylett

By Tracy Maylett


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Being engaged as a manager is not the same as engaging as an employee. The basic forces that drive your personal engagement will be similar to those that drive your team's engagement, although we are all engaged by different factors and to differing degrees. But an engaged manager is more than simply an engaged employee: There's a lot more to it.

For many managers, engagement means "getting you to do what I want you to do." If you comply, you must be engaged. Congratulations! Except that's wrong. An engaged manager doesn't coerce by bringing to bear either real or perceived threats of penalty, loss of privilege, termination and so on. Employees choose to engage; they can't be "forced into engagement."

The engaged manager is responsible for putting in place the conditions that will empower employees to choose engagement. The engagement "keys" -- Meaning, Autonomy, Growth, Impact and Connect (M-A-G-I-C) —are primarily the responsibility of the individual employee. In other words, employees choose to engage because they find meaning (…autonomy, growth, impact, connection) in their work. At the same time, however, the manager is responsible for ensuring the environment is in place that will allow an employee to choose to engage.

Related: 8 Tips to Help First-Time Managers Thrive

Engaged managers till the soil for their direct reports, creating the same conditions that lead to the manager's full engagement in work and workplace culture. They then encourage employees to find engagement in ways that are unique to them, based on what the manager knows about their passions, interests and needs. Disengaged managers, on the other hand, either don't know what motivates their people, or simply don't care. It's about management by authority, threat and coercion.

There's a principle in industrial psychology called the Pygmalion effect, which suggests that managerial attitudes, expectations and treatment of employees will explain and predict both behavior and performance. In short, if you as a manager set high expectations for an employee's performance and communicate those expectations in an affirming way ("I have complete confidence that you can do this"), the employee is likely to perform up to your expectations.

Related: 4 Ways to Get Truly Honest Feedback From Employees

Let me throw another one out there: the Golem effect, named after not the character from The Lord of the Rings but the mythical creature from Jewish folklore. The Golem effect is the opposite of the Pygmalion effect: The negative side of the self-fulfilling prophecy. The disengaged manager expects less from his or her people -- or outright expects them to fail -- and the team then works at the level of those lower expectations.

A variation on these two effects is the observer-expectancy effect, also called experimenter's bias. It says that an experimenter or observer -- for example, a teacher testing children in a classroom -- will often communicate unconscious cues that will cause the subjects to perform in accordance with the observer's bias. A manager who believes a subordinate incapable of performing well in a given task may unintentionally communicate cues that harm the subordinate's confidence or otherwise impair her performance. The opposite is also true.

In either case -- Pygmalion or Golem -- the manager's expectations often stem directly from his or her level of engagement. If a manager is fully engaged in the workplace, he or she is likely to have a positive view of what the team can do and to communicate that belief in an empowering, encouraging way. Disengaged managers, dissatisfied with the organization and indifferent about their jobs, "infect" their teams with their apathy, negativity and belief that the work doesn't matter. The team's performance reflects it.

So, manager, if your team is disengaged (or engaged!), take a look in the mirror. The correlation isn't likely due to chance.

Related: How Companies Can Apply Big Data to Engage Employees

Tracy Maylett

CEO of management consulting firm DecisionWise

Tracy Maylett, Ed.D is CEO of employee engagement consulting firm DecisionWise and author of the books, MAGIC: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Employee Engagement and The Employee Experience.

Related Topics

Editor's Pick

Have More Responsibilities at Work, But No Pay Bump? Use This Script to Get the Raise You Deserve.
Black and Asian Founders Face Opposition at All Levels — Here's Why That Has to Change
Business News

'This Made Me Physically Recoil From My Phone': Lingerie Brand Apologizes For 'Creepy' Ad Referencing Ryan Reynolds and Bras

Online lingerie retailer Harper Wilde is under fire for a bizarre sponsored post it has since pulled from Instagram.

Business News

Viral Sensation 'Popcorn Guy' Has Earned a Gig at the 2023 Oscars

Jason Grosboll first went viral on TikTok for his theatrical method of buttering popcorn in a Texas movie theater.

Thought Leaders

5 Small Daily Habits Self-Made Millionaires Use to Grow Their Wealth

We've all seen what self-made millionaires look like on TV, but it's a lot more subtle than that. Brian Tracy researched what small daily habits these successful entrepreneurs adopted on their journey from rags to riches.