Like your job? Thank your boss
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.
Your boss has a lot to do with whether you like your work.
That may sound blindingly obvious, but surprisingly few companies treat direct supervisors and team leaders as the key to employee engagement. Instead, they delegate responsibility for engagement to corporate staff, usually HR. It’s a shame, because engaged, loyal employees play a critical role in delivering the kind of innovative and responsive service that earns customer loyalty.
Yet a broad study of 200,000 employees in 60 countries by my colleagues at Bain & Company in partnership with Netsurvey found that sales and service employees—those responsible for the most customer interactions—have the lowest level of engagement.
The same study found that 87% of employees who were promoters of their company also gave their supervisors high marks. Makes sense, right? You’re more likely to enjoy your job if your boss pays attention to your work, gives you the right tools for the job and listens to and addresses your concerns. A company that wants engaged employees, then, would make sure supervisors receive regular employee feedback, encourage them to discuss that feedback and give them the authority to immediately address any concerns on their staff.
These are, of course, nearly identical to the techniques that build loyalty among customers—regularly seek feedback (using short surveys that respect a customer’s time), communicate to understand root causes, address their issues and close the loop with them so they know their opinion mattered.
Although many companies embrace this approach for customers, too many still treat employee engagement as a corporate responsibility. Employees get a mind-numbingly long survey once a year and, after a few months of data crunching, the HR department distributes aggregated results that give supervisors little more than a general sense of the level of contentment among the staff—and little indication about why.
Imagine, instead, if employees were regularly asked if they’d recommend their company as a place to work—and why—and that information went directly to supervisors. Those surveys need to be anonymous to encourage candid feedback, but they give supervisors a continuous pulse check on employee concerns and level of engagement. And, more important than the score, verbatim responses—the “Why?” answers—allow supervisors to hold dialogues with employees that can get quickly to the heart of their actual concerns. Those regular huddles also give supervisors the opportunity—and incentive—to let employees know how their concerns were addressed.
Not every supervisor is skilled at that sort of dialogue, of course, and that’s where the corporate center can play a useful role, providing training and ensuring that supervisors do have the resources to respond to employee concerns.
Sometimes, simple fixes can make a big difference. In one case I’m familiar with, night shift employees responsible for after-hours customer service noted that the restaurants in the area were all closed and their only food options were standard company vending machines. Would you want employees responsible for your customer service to be battling their circadian rhythms—and hungry? The company worked with its vending machine supplier to begin supplying fresh fruit and other healthy fare.
That’s not an issue that would be likely to pop up on a company-wide survey, but it’s one that made a big difference to those employees, and ultimately, to the customers they serve.
My colleague Rob Markey also recently wrote a blog post on HBR.org about this issue: The Four Secrets to Employee Engagement. As you can see, it’s a topic we think is a pretty important one.