Retaining top talent is the number one priority for the majority of HR professionals and the recognised way to achieve that is by focusing on increasing employee engagement. An engaged employee is 60% less likely to look for another job in the next 12 months. There are many other benefits to increased employee engagement including reduced absence, higher performance and greater customer loyalty.

It may come as no surprise that the people within your organisation that have the most influence on an employee’s engagement is the employee’s direct manager. Research suggests that employees who are supervised by highly engaged managers are 60% more likely to be engaged.

Hiring the right managers is therefore crucial, but what sort of manager is effective at increasing their team’s engagement? We clearly want managers that are themselves engaged, but what qualities must a manager have  to ensure their team members feel the same level of engagement?

1. Ability to provide regular meaningful feedback

First and foremost, managers must engage with their own teams. Research by Gallup tells us that engagement plummets to 2% among teams with managers who ignore their employees. Millennials, who now form the largest generation in the workplace, are looking for regular and meaningful feedback, ideally on a weekly basis. Only 19% of Millennials say that they actually receive regular feedback from their managers, so recruiting managers that are comfortable, able and willing to hold regular one on one meetings with their staff is an important first step. This is particularly true for the younger members of their team, who are looking for someone to coach them toward achieving their ambitions. Communication should be open and honest and flow both ways, not just from manager to employee.

2. Possess a real interest in growing the careers of their employees

Managers must be authentic. They must form real relationships with their team members and have a true interest in helping guide the careers of those that report to them. According to Right Management, 68% of employees say their managers aren’t actively engaged in their career development, but 87% of millennials say professional development or career growth opportunities are very important to them.

3. Develop trust

Trust is an important asset that managers should aim to build up. This includes behaving ethically and treating their employees fairly. 93% of employees said trust in their direct manager is important to remain satisfied at work, yet only 50% of employees trust senior management. Being ethical and fair is the most important traits of a manager according to Millennials. Managers can build trust through a variety of ways, but above all they must establish credibility by following up on what they say they will do, being true to their word and building a reputation for getting things done.

Managers must also learn to trust their employees.  Empowering employees to make their own decisions and to challenge the status quo are key to creating a dynamic and competitive organisation, but a manager must trust their employees in order to provide such an environment.

4. Understand and utilise the strengths within the team

Managers should focus on and utilise team members strengths where possible. Employees who believe their managers can name their strengths are 71% more likely to feel engaged, whereas teams led by managers who focus on their weaknesses are 26% less likely to be engaged.

5. Be able to effectively communicate visions and goals

Engaged employees have a clear idea of how what they do contributes to the success of their organisation. Managers should therefore be skilled at helping set their employees’ goals, ensuring that they align with the company’s objectives. They must also take the time to explain clearly what is expected of their employees and evaluate fairly the employee’s work in a timely fashion. Setting and evaluating goals on a quarterly basis helps to ensure that the employee’s work is continuously aligned with company objectives and provides a framework for timely feedback on the employee’s performance. The ability to clearly define goals and expectations is the number one attribute of a perfect boss – according to the GenX generation.

6. Ensure great work is recognised

Recognising employees is an important part of helping grow engagement. 82% of employees believe that they are not sufficiently recognised for the work that they do.  Managers should understand how each member of their team responds to recognition, since people are motivated by recognition in different ways and some people are even turned off when they are recognised publicly. Recognition must be fair, timely and authentic. For a manager’s recognition to be effective they must first have built up an appropriate level of trust with the employee.

It is also important to establish a mechanism for peers to recognise each other, particularly for younger teams, where peer-to-peer recognition is valued and embraced.

Hiring the right managers

The talent required to achieve a high performing, fully engaged team is rare. Gallup’s research suggests that only one in ten people possess the right qualities, yet it is estimated that companies make the wrong hiring decision 80% of the time – an alarming statistic. The good news is that since, on average, most companies have approximately one manager for every ten employees, it is likely that there is one person on the team with the necessary skills to be an effective manager. The chances are though that it’s not the current manager.

Simon Bates is CEO of Workteam, an HR Management System for businesses of all sizes with a focus on growing employee engagement. Visit to find out how it can benefit your organization.