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Look to the Middle for an Engagement Boost

By Tom Starner | 2-min read


Middle managers can prove to be a critical asset in the drive to raise employee engagement – resulting in higher productivity levels and lower attrition, among other positive company-wide outcomes. Yet, despite the important role of middle managers in employee engagement, recent research shows that employers may be undervaluing them.

A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), found that 58% of employees say that their relationship with their manager is “very important,” and 73% rate “relationship with immediate supervisor” as a top engagement driver. Yet just 40% of employees reported having a good relationship with their manager – a clue that there may be a disconnect between middle management responsibilities their workplace actions.

With this data in mind, it is imperative that employers work to close this gap, especially because of the influence that middle managers have on the satisfaction of their workforce.

Good managers play a crucial role in retaining talented workers and creating a positive workplace culture, according to a TINYpulse report. More importantly, valued middle managers are in a critical position to turn big ideas from higher-level executives into action because they are involved in day-to-day operations more than any other workplace leader.

The combination of authority and hands-on interaction with their workforce puts middle managers in an important position in the business process. They are the ones who make things happen.

Of all the middle management responsibilities, employee engagement is paramount. However, it is also a consistent pain point across the organization. Among those surveyed by TINYpulse, middle manager-led employees were more likely to stick with their companies even if another one offered a 10% raise. 

Smart moves in the middle: Training, mentoring, communication 

One idea for HR leaders would be to offer higher levels of training for middle managers, including leadership development programs to managers of all levels (not just higher-level executives).

Of course, there is the all-important value of feedback. Middle managers need to know how they are doing both from executive leaders and the employees they lead. Providing feedback and recognizing their efforts can help boost their engagement and leadership skills – and at the same time show the organization values them. The result will likely deliver a positive ripple effect throughout the entire organization.

Above all, HR leaders must think about how to create and develop messages middle managers can utilize within any broader employee communications strategy. For example, middle managers are critical to setting the tone for employee engagement, culture, etc. So giving them the training and tools to be effective communicators of the company’s mission, values and employee value proposition through performance management processes and compensation programs is critical.

Too many times upper management assumes information will magically cascade down through the organization. Unfortunately, this thinking – due to a lack of planning and thought – too often fails and devolves into a version of “telephone tag,” where information is ignored, becomes inconsistent and, eventually, is mis-interpreted. Culture and performance suffer as a result.

Instead, what’s needed is a communication strategy that engages and motivates middle managers to become brand ambassadors that can effectively articulate the employee value proposition and clearly communicate important messages,  such as what’s new in benefits and/or why employees received the comp package they did.

For more information on how to improve your managers’ communication skills, visit our performance management page.