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The Public Manager Magazine Article

The Role of Management in Employee Engagement

Promoting and developing the right people into supervisory roles is crucial for employee morale and agency success.


Mon Oct 10 2016

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The Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) is one of the most important sources on employee engagement that's available to the government. This survey's questions delve into employees' opinions of workplace conditions that influence employee engagement.

The goal of the FEVS is to isolate workplace attributes that have the greatest opportunity to positively impact agency engagement. In 2015, more than 421,700 federal employees from 78 agencies completed the FEVS, voicing their perceptions of leadership practices, training and development, work-life balance, and opportunities for career advancement.


Employee Engagement: What's the Big Deal?

According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), engagement is defined as "an employee's sense of purpose that is evident in their display of dedication, persistence, and effort in their work or overall attachment to their organization and its mission." Developed in 2010, the employee engagement index employs questions from the FEVS to quantify the workplace conditions that lead to engagement.

The index consists of three subfactors: intrinsic work experience, supervisors, and leaders lead. Intrinsic work experience summarizes employees' feelings aptitude and motivation for their workplace role. The supervisor subfactor depicts the relationship between employee and supervisor. Leaders lead reveals employees' views of agency leadership.

A successful agency is one in which each employee can reach his or her maximum potential, thus contributing to the agency's overall success. Corporate research illustrates the relationship between employee engagement and performance, and FEVS data show a similar trend.

Given the costs associated with employee turnover, the link between employee retention and engagement has important financial and performance implications. There are direct costs associated to replacing an employee, as well as the indirect costs of lost organizational or technical knowledge.

The Management Link

Because frontline managers have the most direct and frequent contact with employees, the engagement behaviors they model have a great impact on employees. Not only are frontline managers the medium for communicating the agency's values, mission, and strategic priorities to employees, they also help their teams understand how individual employee contributions fit into broader organizational goals.


According to a 2015 Gallup poll, employees supervised by highly engaged managers are 59 percent more likely to be engaged than those supervised by actively disengaged managers. Currently, only about 30 percent of U.S. employees are engaged in their work and workplaces. These data show the value of leadership in defining and rewarding key behaviors that can be modeled at every level of the organization.

Management Talent

Talent is defined as the natural capacity for excellence in an endeavor. Gallup's State of the American Manager report contains insights into the leadership aptitudes required for effective team management.

Although everyone has talent in certain areas, few people have the innate talent to become great managers. In fact, only one in 10 people have the rare blend of innate qualities that Gallup found to be predictors of management distinction. These qualities include assertiveness, decision making, motivation, accountability, and the aptitude to build relationships. Two in 10 have "functioning" talent, meaning they have some of the characteristics but not all. With the right training, coaching, and mentoring, they can become successful managers. Disappointingly, only 18 percent of current managers have a natural capacity for management excellence. Consequently, agencies and organizations miss out on placing the optimal people in managerial jobs 82 percent of the time.

Organizations with high-talent lead teams realize greater productivity, achieve 48 percent higher profitability, and attain higher employee engagement. They also have high retention rates and a more engaged client base. High-talent lead teams are also more likely to become brand ambassadors for their agency than those with functioning or limited management talent. Moreover, those with high managerial talent are twice as likely to effectively advocate their agency services and say they know what their agency stands for.

Promote the Right People

Many agencies struggle to improve their performance and workplace morale because they don't have enough effective managers. Often people in these agencies were placed in management roles for the wrong reasons.


While promoting people based on tenure or success in a prior nonsupervisory role seems reasonable, those aren't the right reasons to promote an employee into a leadership position. Great managers have natural talents that are different from those of functional or limited (below average) managers. Despite recent Gallup research that states managers may hold the most important role in the workplace, few organizations have enough great managers.

There is no other job that has as much combined influence on American business success or failure as the manager. Managers affect everything that gets done in the workplace. They render strategy into action; and they are the keepers of employee creativity, productivity, morale and turnover. Skilled managers better their employees' lives and performance, while a mediocre manager impairs employee lives and performance. Proper management training and development provides a powerful tool for improving and sustaining employee engagement and the performance of the federal workforce.

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