How “Thinking Managers” Bridge the Employee Engagement Gap


rom “shocking” to “disturbing,” the headlines paint a pretty dismal picture of employee engagement levels in today’s organizations. Study after study turns up numbers in the range of 70 to 80 percent of the workforce that’s either not fully engaged or actively disengaged at work, costing companies billions in annual turnover.

On the flip side, there are just as many stats pointing to the clear productivity and revenue benefits engaged employees bring to the organization. No wonder survey respondents in Deloitte’s 2014 Global Human Capital Trends Report said “retention and engagement” is their number two human capital priority “ and challenge “ just behind “leadership.

But consider the number of employees who leave or are actively looking every year, in bad economic times and good. Even with all the talk about engagement, disengagement rates persist, especially as the “do more with less” mentality has piled on more responsibilities and tasks, whether or not they have anything to do with what the person does best.

The impact isn’t just on the individual; the organization loses out in multiple ways. The most obvious is the lost productivity and discretionary effort of those who are doing just what they have to do to get by.

Actively disengaged employees can also have a negative influence on other employees and push customers away. Turnover, quality, safety, profitability, the list of costs goes on and on.


Towers Watson’s 2012 Global Workforce Study found that the stress and unpredictability of the work environment have been somewhat to blame for the dismal numbers, but their findings also echo what numerous other studies have shown that while perks and pay matter, they’re not the key drivers of employee engagement and retention; managers and leaders have a much greater influence on the quality of the work experience and whether or not employees will provide the discretionary effort today’s business objectives require.

Unfortunately, too many leaders view engagement as being simply about employee satisfaction, completely missing the opportunities they have to enhance engagement through their daily communication, interaction and activities, as well as how they manage and assign work. The question is, when it comes to bridging the employee engagement gap in your organization, are your managers and leaders part of the problem or part of the solution?

The ideal scenario of employee engagement starts with a combination of people being stimulated by a particular kind of work and then being aligned with that work in their job. In other words, their work is so interesting to them, if they could choose, they would select it for its inspiration and pleasure because performing it is reward in itself.

This isn’t necessarily the easiest work”it’s often the most challenging”but it’s challenging in a way the person finds inherently satisfying. The fact is, we all motivate ourselves, and this is the kind of work that fuels our inner motivation. So what does that have to do with your managers? Everything! Most work”even physical labor”is largely mental. It stands to reason then that employees will be most productive if they’re doing work that primarily aligns with their thinking preferences.

How to Improve Employee Engagement

By understanding the impact of thinking “ their own as well as their employees’ “ on interests, behaviors, communications and work approaches, leaders will be able to better connect with their employees, build their confidence and trust, and provide them the opportunities to put their talents to work. Your managers and leaders hold the key to unlocking employee engagement.

They need to:

  • Know their employees “ their preferences, skills, expectations and job needs
  • Be able to communicate effectively with diverse employees
  • Recognize and align employee strengths, talents and needs with the organization’s objectives
  • Understand what motivates individual employees and how to encourage their best thinking

There’s no one-size-fits-all management approach to engaging and inspiring employees, but Whole Brain® Thinking gives leaders practical tools to diagnose and adjust their approaches as necessary. It makes it easy for them to:

  • See past their own preferences and assumptions
  • Understand the mental requirements of work assignments, and align people as closely as possible with the work they do best
  • Help people use their thinking preferences in service of the work that needs to be done, even when it requires them to stretch
  • Keep the lines of communication open so employee engagement becomes a daily focus, not a stop-gap, crisis management issue

As economic conditions improve, employees will have new opportunities to pursue other employment, and your most talented people will be the most attractive targets to organizations looking to strengthen their teams.

Now is the time to develop leaders and managers who see engagement as a critical business priority, not just a hot topic for discussion. And now is the time to develop leaders who have the thinking agility to personalize engagement and leverage the best of those around them.

Want to Improve Employee Engagement?

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