Employee Engagement – What Managers Can Do


A recent article about Employee Engagement Surveys written by Dr. Peter Cappelli in the Wall Street Journal grabbed my attention.   He makes a case for eliminating these surveys, pointing out that engagement surveys have been used for over 100 years (high time to look at other approaches) and are fraught with shortcomings.

Some of the shortcomings he identified along with some of my own observations include:

  • They are too lengthy—many Engagement Surveys are 50+ questions taking an hour plus for employees to answer in a thoughtful manner
  • Too many surveys—some organizations are constantly surveying their employees and “survey fatigue” sets in which results in low participation rates
  • Employees are concerned about the lack of confidentiality and manager retribution
  • Leaders do not address the issues identified
  • Employees do not receive feedback on the survey results

What can we do to address the myriad of issues related to employee engagement surveying?  Below are countermeasures that could help in that effort:

  • Make the commitment to change before dispensing any surveys to ensure that leadership wants to take action to address engagement issues.
  • Ensure surveys are anonymous.
  • Make them short—consider using pulse surveys. To deal with participation, Cappelli noted that one organization would require employees to complete one before they could log onto their computer.
  • Share the results of the survey and share the actions that the organization is taking to address engagement issues.
  • Consider using other information to assess engagement, such as the exit interview, to identify why people leave and parse out those engagement issues. If the exit interview process is not effective, then assess why not and change the format to ensure it is meeting the objective.
  • Use a Department Risk Assessment tool surveys to identify who is at risk of leaving and use the data to make improvements.
  • Use a 3rd party vendor to collect the data to avoid the confidentiality concerns that employees may have when it is done internally.

Let’s transition now to identifying what organizations can do to enhance employee engagement.  Generally, managers and first-line supervisors are in the best position to do so.

Tips to Improve Engagement for Managers/Supervisors:

  • Provide desirable and challenging assignments: Enriching jobs with widening decision making and empowerment, project work and employee involvement teams work as some examples
  • Help employees prioritize their own development
  • Meet regularly with your employees—the one-on-one meeting continues to be an effective way to check in with direct reports
  • Show appreciation for good work
  • Provide feedback that is constructive, respectful, and includes listening to the employee—get their ideas on how to fix the problem
  • Ensure that employees are given opportunities to use their talents
  • Communicate clearly and listen to employees
  • Earn trust—demonstrate integrity and honor commitments
  • Capitalize on the diverse strengths and experiences of employees
  • Share information—let people know what’s going in the organization
  • Help employees deal with feelings of dissatisfaction—provide an “open door” for discussion

The time is ripe for action!   Employees are one of our most important resources—let’s start acting on this premise.

If you would like more information regarding our Organization Development and Talent Management Certification Programs, please contact us at info@instituteod.com.

Author:  Patricia Dammann, VP Programs–Institute of Organization Development, offering online OD Certification Programs.  She can be reached at Patti@instituteod.com

Reference:  Wall Street Journal, “It’s Time to Get Rid of Employee Surveys” (August 1, 2020)

Wall Street Journal, “When Ability Holds Back Advancement” (April 12, 2017)


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