Blog: Leading & Living Courageously

4 Ways You May be Undermining Employee Engagement

In last week’s blog post, we took a look at the connection between appreciation and employee engagement. This week, we continue the theme with a post that looks at the four most common ways leaders undermine employee engagement.

1. Not saying thank you: Managers who only criticize and find fault with their employees’ performance run the risk of creating an unhappy – and less productive – workforce. Rarely saying something as simple as “good work” or “thank you” creates an environment where staff feel unappreciated and taken advantage of.

2. Recognizing the same people all the time: Some leaders single out the same staff over and over again for recognition and praise. No matter how deserving these employees may be, repeatedly acknowledging one small group of individuals can create an environment of exclusion, which leads to a negative backlash within the team.

3. Participating in background conversations about others: Managers may think they can confidentially talk about one employee to another, but what they say always leaks out. Leaders who grouse, gossip and gripe about their co-workers, employees and bosses — especially behind their backs — create an environment of distrust and disharmony.

4. Not letting your staff shine: Many managers miss the opportunity to have their staff be recognized for their contributions, both by their immediate team members and by senior management. Failing to give people an opportunity to make an important presentation to their peers or higher-ups, not acknowledging the significant contribution of an employee to other members of the team, and actively taking credit for an employee’s work all lead to decreased trust and reduced confidence among staff.

What all these behaviors have in common is an active narcissism, a blind insensitivity or a management immaturity that makes the manager look like a jerk and their staff feel uncared for.

One 2009 study was conducted to examine the narcissistic tendencies of bosses in American organizations. Wayne Hochwarter, the Jim Moran Professor of Management in the Florida State University College of Business, asked more than 1,200 employees to provide opinions regarding the narcissistic tendencies of their immediate supervisor. Their responses:

  • 31 percent reported that their boss is prone to exaggerate his or her accomplishments to look good in front of others.
  • 27 percent reported that their boss brags to others to get praise.
  • 25 percent reported that their boss had an inflated view of himself or herself.
  • 24 percent reported that their boss was self-centered.
  • 20 percent reported that their boss will do a favor only if guaranteed one in return.

“Having a narcissistic boss creates a toxic environment for virtually everyone who must come in contact with this individual,” Hochwarter said. “The team perspective ceases to exist, and the work environment becomes increasingly stressful. Productivity typically plummets as well.”

When it comes to employee engagement, all signs seem to point in the same direction. You are either building motivation or destroying it. You are either moving forward by appreciation or acknowledgement or going backward with lack of attention. The choice is one every manager makes daily.

What can you do today to make your staff feel more appreciated? We would love to hear your comments.


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