Employee Engagement Is Less Dependent On Managers Than You Think

Leadership IQ studied more than 11,000 employees and discovered that employees’ Self-Engagement (i.e. their personal outlooks like optimism, resilience, proactivity, etc.) can actually matter more than working for a great manager

We’ve all heard that having a great manager drives employee engagement. But new data reveals that employees’ Self-Engagement (i.e. their personal outlooks like optimism, resilience, proactivity, etc.) can actually matter more than working for a great manager!

Leadership IQ surveyed 11,308 employees about their employee engagement, and compared traditional engagement survey questions with new self-engagement questions to measure which questions were more effective at predicting overall employee engagement and inspiration. (SPOILER: Self-engagement is a better predictor of employee engagement than traditional engagement survey questions). Key findings from the study include:

  • A boss who gives recognition is good, but an employee's OPTIMISM is a better predictor of employee engagement
  • A boss who considers your ideas is good, but having an INTERNAL LOCUS OF CONTROL is a better predictor of employee engagement
  • Having a trustworthy boss is good, but being RESILIENT is a better predictor of employee engagement
  • Teamwork is good, but an employee's ASSERTIVENESS is a better predictor of employee engagement
  • Having a clearly defined job is good, but finding your work INTERESTING is a better predictor of employee engagement

STUDY METHODOLOGY
Leadership IQ , a research and leadership training company, surveyed 11,308 employees about their employee engagement, and compared traditional engagement survey questions with new self-engagement questions to measure which questions were more effective at predicting overall employee engagement and inspiration. FIRST, respondents answered traditional employee engagement survey questions (about how managers engage employees), like: “My immediate supervisor recognizes my accomplishments” AND “My immediate supervisor thoughtfully considers my ideas.” SECOND, respondents answered questions about their Self-Engagement (i.e. their optimism, resilience, proactivity, assertiveness, ambition, etc.). The Self-Engagement questions assess how employees are engaging themselves (rather than what their manager does or doesn’t do) and included items like: “I expect that more good things will happen to me than bad things” AND “The tough times I've had in my career have helped me to grow and improve.”   THIRD, using regression analyses, we then compared the traditional employee engagement questions to the Self-Engagement questions to see which ones did a better job of predicting employee engagement. Overall Self-Engagement did a better job of predicting employee engagement. 

Finding #1: A Boss Who Gives Recognition Is Good, But An Optimistic Employee Is Better

In traditional employee engagement surveys, one of the bigger drivers of employee inspiration is the extent to which a manager recognizes an employee’s accomplishments. And on the left scatterplot below, you can see that recognizing accomplishments does explain about 21% of an employee’s inspiration at work.

[NOTE: This is shown by the R2 (R-squared) statistic which is the percentage of the dependent variable variation that a linear model explains].

But let’s shift our perspective from the boss to the employee’s Self-Engagement. The scatterplot on the right shows that Optimism (i.e. when an employee expects that more good than bad things will happen to them), explains 30% of an employee’s inspiration at work. That’s a better predictor of employee engagement.

Clearly an R2 of 30% for Self-Engagement is better than 21% for traditional employee engagement.

Now, we want to be clear that this is not a competition: companies should pursue BOTH types of employee engagement. BUT Self-Engagement has been glaringly absent from employee engagement strategies and that needs to change. Of course, both are good and ideally we would recognize employees AND help employees to be more Optimistic.

People high in optimism expect that they’re going to experience positive and favorable outcomes. They can avoid negativity spirals and focus on the bright side. Research has shown that optimism can help reduce a person’s stress and increase longevity which, in turn, often leads to lower levels of worry and anxiety. People high in optimism expect that more good things than bad things will happen to them, and that includes positive expectations about their professional future.

But while there are millions of dollars spent on employee recognition programs every year, there’s almost nothing spent on helping employees to be more Optimistic. And the data clearly shows that’s a problem because Optimism is better predictor of inspiration (aka employee engagement) than employee recognition.

Finding #2: A Boss Who Considers Your Ideas Is Good, But Having An Internal Locus Of Control Is Better

In traditional employee engagement surveys, another big driver of employee inspiration is the extent to which a manager thoughtfully considers their employees’ ideas. And on the left scatterplot below, you can see that thoughtfully considers employees’ ideas does explain about 22% of an employee’s inspiration at work. So that’s good.

But let’s again shift our perspective from the boss to the employee’s Self-Engagement. The scatterplot on the right shows that having an Internal Locus Of Control (i.e. when an employee believes that they control their fate and that if they work hard enough they will succeed), explains 26% of an employee’s inspiration at work. That’s a better predictor of employee engagement.

Clearly 26% for Self-Engagement is better than 22% for traditional employee engagement.

This isn’t a competition, and ideally we would improve BOTH of these issues.  But while many companies conduct training to teach their managers to more thoughtfully consider their employees’ ideas, very few ever teach employees how to develop an Internal Locus Of Control.

People with a high internal locus of control believe that they control their own success or failure; that success or failure is not the result of chance or fate. By contrast, having a low internal locus of control (also known as having an ‘external’ locus of control) would mean that one attributes success or failure to factors outside of their control.

Research has found that people with a high internal locus of control typically experience more career success, better health, less anxiety and lower stress. People with a high internal locus of control believe that they will succeed if they work hard enough. And when they make plans, they’re certain that they will accomplish them.

And the data makes clear that teaching employees how to take more mental ownership of their destiny would generate significantly more employee engagement. 

Finding #3: Having A Trustworthy Boss Is Good, But Being Resilient Is Better

It’s a truism that trusting one’s boss leads to more highly engaged employees. And on the left scatterplot below, you can see that trusting one’s boss does explain about 22% of an employee’s inspiration at work. So that’s good.

But now look at the employee’s Self-Engagement. The scatterplot on the right shows that having high Resilience (i.e. surviving difficult times with little trouble), explains 25% of an employee’s inspiration at work. That’s a better predictor of employee engagement.

Clearly 25% for Self-Engagement (Resilience) is better than 22% for traditional employee engagement (trusting the boss).

Imagine how much more engaged employees would be if even a fraction of the resources spent on ‘trust building’ were spent on helping employees increase their Resilience.

People high in resilience are better able to bounce back quickly from failure, adversity, tragedy, stress, relationship problems, health issues, and more. Resilient people generally don’t see crises as insurmountable problems; they manage their negative feelings. When people high in resilience make a mistake, they’re more likely to immediately start looking for another chance to try again. And they’re more likely to come through difficult times with little trouble.

The data is clear that teaching workers how to bounce back from tough times more quickly would have a profound impact on employee engagement.

Finding #4: Teamwork Is Good, But Assertiveness Is Better

Virtually every company on earth has expended significant resources trying to improve teamwork. And on the left scatterplot below, you can see that employees working together as a team does explain about 16% of someone’s employee engagement. So that’s good.

But now let’s look at an aspect of an employee’s Self-Engagement. The scatterplot on the right shows that having high Assertiveness (i.e. getting your requests fulfilled), explains 23% of a worker’s employee engagement. That’s a better predictor of employee engagement.

Clearly 23% for Self-Engagement (Assertiveness) is better than 16% for traditional employee engagement (teamwork).

Imagine how much more engaged employees would be if even a fraction of the resources spent improving teamwork were spent on helping employees increase their Assertiveness.

People high in assertiveness are able to clearly express their needs, views, and boundaries. And they’re more likely to get their requests fulfilled, and needs met, than those low in assertiveness. People high in assertiveness also generally experience less anxiety around making requests, having tough conversations, and saying ‘no.’ Research has found that assertiveness is often correlated with higher levels of self-esteem, and healthy assertiveness skills can even reduce conflicts and aggressiveness in the workplace.

The data is clear that teaching workers how to more assertively express their needs would have a profound impact on employee engagement.

Finding #5: Having A Cleary Defined Job Is Good, But Finding Your Work Interesting Is Better

In traditional employee engagement surveys, a big driver of employee inspiration is having clearly defined job responsibilities. And on the left scatterplot below, you can see that having clearly defined job responsibilities does explain about 17% of an individual’s employee engagement. So that’s good.

But let’s shift our perspective to the employee’s Self-Engagement. The scatterplot on the right shows that finding Meaning in your job (i.e. finding something interesting in every task or project), explains 24% of an employee’s inspiration at work. That’s a better predictor of employee engagement.

Clearly 24% for Self-Engagement (Meaning) is better than 17% for traditional employee engagement (clearly defined job responsibilities).

Imagine how much better employee engagement would be if companies taught their employees how to find more Meaning in their work!

People high in meaning find their work interesting and important. And as we might expect, people high in meaning tend to be significantly more inspired in their jobs. They’re more likely to stay with their current employer, more likely to give their best effort at work, and more likely to recommend their employer to others. People high in meaning find something interesting in every task/project they do. And they believe that the work they do is important to somebody besides them.

The data is clear that teaching workers how to find greater Meaning in their work would have a profound impact on employee engagement.

FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS STUDY

Having a great manager will make any employee more engaged. But this new research has discovered that an employee’s Self-Engagement can be even more important than having a great boss.

In fact, overall, Self-Engagement did a better job of predicting employee engagement than the measures found in traditional employee engagement surveys.

But once again, we want to be clear that this is not a competition: companies should pursue BOTH types of employee engagement. However, Self-Engagement has been glaringly absent from employee engagement strategies and that needs to change.

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