Keeping the People Report
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E-Letter Volume 19, April 2010

In this issue:

  • Why Some Managers Don’t Believe in Employee Engagement
  • April 14th Webinar on “Re-Engaging Employees in Difficult Times”
  • Join us at the SHRM Global Conference in June
  • Announcing the release of Re-Engage: How America’s Best Places to Work Inspire Extra Effort in Extraordinary Times (McGraw-Hill, 2010)
Why Some Managers Don’t Believe in Employee Engagement

I was following a thread of posts on Linked-In recently on the topic of employee engagement, and was a little taken aback by the following statement from one contributor to the lively conversation:

“Some managers don’t believe in employee engagement.”

Yep, I knew it was true.  Yet, my rational/advocate self asked, “how could they NOT believe in employee engagement?!  Engaged employees are both more satisfied and more productive.  Don’t we all know this by now?!  Engaged employees get better results and please more customers and clients.  An overwhelming body of research shows the strong linkage between employee engagement and business success (  And besides, engaged employees make their managers look better!  Not to mention the fact that there simply not enough of them—most surveys show the average percentage of engaged employees in U.S. workplaces ranging between only about 25% and 40%.  So, wouldn’t you think all managers would be straining at the bit to raise the engagement levels of their direct reports?!

Nope…and for some reasons that are at least understandable, if not defensible.  Here are the ones I’ve identified or heard managers express before:

Reason No. 1:  “It’s not my job to keep employees engaged!...They should already BE engaged!”

This one’s hard to disagree with.  There’s no denying that all employees should know it’s in their best interest to give their best effort on the job each day.  I believe that most employees start out engaged on day one and stay that way until some triggering event sends them down the road to disengagement…until and unless something is done to re-engage them.  Of course, some of those we hire will never fall into the fully-engaged category.  But then, as hiring managers, we have to accept responsibility of hiring those people and for, all-too-often, hiring warm bodies rather than having the patience and persistence to seek and find the right person. 

Employees must know that engagement is a shared responsibility and own their part of the equation.  But ultimately, all managers need to accept that it IS the job of managers to maximize employee performance, which means doing everything possible to keep employees engaged. 

Managers have control over five of the six Universal Engagement Drivers that Mark Hirschfeld and I write about in our new book, Re-Engage.  The driver they don’t control?  It’s Senior Leaders—leaders who care enough to hold managers accountable for keeping employees engaged!  So, as we have seen in so many workplaces, the commitment and the mindsets that distinguish winning workplace cultures have to start at the top and cascade down.

Reason No. 2:  “Employees are too entitled already…they should feel lucky to have a job!”

Chances are you’ve heard this one lately.  Usually, it’s said by a Boomer or X’er manager about a Millennial (GenY) employee.  Entitlement isn’t necessarily age-related, but the rap on Millennials—born from 1981 to 1995 (or thereabouts), is that they were over-praised and over-parented by their mostly Boomer parents.  Ironic isn’t it?  Remember the Fortune magazine cover of a couple of years ago—“You Raised ‘Em, Now You Manage ‘Em”?

 There’s just enough truth there to make this one stick. Many Millennials expect far more coaching, feedback, instant gratification, and recognition than their parents did, which inspires the following reaction from many Boomer managers: “Who do they think they are?!” or  “They need to get real!” or “Nobody ever had to keep me engaged!”  As one Boomer CEO told me about three years ago, “What these youngsters need is a good recession!”  Well, he certainly got his wish.  No doubt many Millennials are indeed getting a wake-up call and learning to feel fortunate to have jobs in the current economy. 

Younger employees will always need to adjust their unrealistic expectations.  Still, there’s another side to the coin—because of the way they grew up, with new technologies that conditioned them to expect more immediate responses, Millennials will continue to expect more of the same from the workplace as they age.  They want to be engaged, but their managers will need to let go of the “My way good…your way bad” mentality and meet them halfway. 

Both sides need to give a little—managers, for example, need to challenge Millennials to keep themselves engaged while giving a little more frequent feedback, and understand that not all feedback needs to be criticism.  For their part, Millennials need to adjust their expectations to workplace realities while learning to ask for feedback when they need it instead of feeling quietly victimized, and to understand that not all feedback is praise.  (It needs to be said here that these are stereotypical generalizations that may not apply to many Boomers or Millennials, and, as we emphasize in Re-Engage, individual uniqueness trumps generational membership.)

Again, this reason is no excuse.  The job description of manager still includes keeping employees engaged, which today means confronting entitlement when it’s unreasonable while knowing that engagement requires meeting certain human needs in the workplace, regardless of what generation a person grew up in.  Mostly, managers need to focus on removing the impediments, irritations, and barriers that frustrate the otherwise self-engaged employee.

Reason No. 3: “I’ve got too much to do already!”

As we know, the recent spate of corporate downsizings has only increased the amount of work for many managers.  Brian Kropp, an analyst with the Corporate Executive Board, has reported that the average manager worked about 10 percent more hours a week in the first half of 2009 compared with the first half of 2008, but spent 20 percent less time with their team members.  A CEB survey found that 60 percent of employees said they had a change in manager in the past six months or expect one in the coming six months, thus reducing the long-term commitment to employee coaching and mentoring.  The degree of difficulty only gets worse with the increasing adoption of matrix reporting relationships that leave employees uncertain about who their real “manager” is.

What to do about it?  It seems we have three choices:  1) senior leaders can reconsider their decisions to downsize in response to business declines and consider other options, such as cutting back employee work hours, as many companies have done to avoid laying people off; 2) make it clearer than ever to managers that their real job is not “to do”, but to lead, manage, and delegate to the people who “do.”  This may mean streamlining business processes, off-loading some work to consultants, temps, or part-timers, and conducting people management skill-building training for managers who have not developed those critical interpersonal skills.  This alternative requires that senior leaders also find ways to hold managers accountable for demonstrating these skills.  Selecting and promoting managers who have these skills in the first place would also go a long way toward addressing this issue; and 3) equip all employees with the information, autonomy, training, resources, tools, feedback, challenge, and responsibility they need to be self-engaging, while reminding them that they need to focus on supporting their managers, taking as much as they can off the overworked manager’s desk, and demonstrating their value to the organization as the key to job security.

If you have different thoughts about the reasons managers don’t believe in employee engagement, please go to our blog on where we will be posting this article and you can respond there.

April 14th Webinar on “Re-Engaging Employees in Difficult Times”


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

11:00 AM - 12:00 PM CDT

Leigh Branham

Mark Hirschfeld



Join us for a Complimentary Webinar on April 14

We know our current economic crisis has had a significant impact on employee engagement. As we struggle through these difficult times, can leaders engage and re-engage employees? According to Leigh Branham and Mark Hirschfeld, co-authors of Re-Engage: How America's Best Places to Work Inspire Extra Effort in Extraordinary Times (McGraw-Hill, 2010), the most engaged workplaces are staying focused on building great workplace cultures to not only survive, but thrive, in these difficult economic times.

In this webinar Leigh and Mark will present the latest employee engagement research conducted by their research partner, Quantum Workplace. They'll also discuss engagement practices that highly engaged workplaces have used to maintain, and in some cases increase, employee engagement in these trying times.

Mark Hirschfeld has 20 years of experience in organizational consulting, executive coaching and development, business marketing and management. He consults with professionals globally, providing services in employee selection, management development, team building and surveying.

Leigh Branham has 30 years of experience in business, education and management consulting. Leigh is an author of three best-selling books; Keeping the People Who Keep You in Business,The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, and co-author of Re-Engage.

System Requirements
PC-based attendees
Required: Windows® 7, Vista, XP, 2003 Server or 2000

Macintosh®-based attendees
Required: Mac OS® X 10.4.11 (Tiger®) or newer

Reserve your Webinar seat now at:


Join Mark Hirschfeld and me in San Diego in June at the SHRM Global Conference where we will present:

“Navigating the Crosswinds of Employee Engagement”

Now available in retail and on-line booksellers:

Re-Engage: How America's Best Places to Work Inspire Extra Effort in Extraordinary Times (McGraw-Hill, 2010)


Re-EnageMark Hirschfeld and I are proud to announce the publication of our new book, Re-Engage, an evidenced-based study of employee engagement--the most comprehensive ever conducted in terms of the number and diversity of employers--supported by 2.1 million employee surveys from 10,000 organizations collected by Quantum Workplace since 2004.

For the past two years, Mark and I have sifted through an enormous quantity of data from engagement surveys submitted in Best-Places-to-Work competitions in 45 U.S. cities, and have read 100,000-plus verbatim employee comments between us. Our most compelling finding was the identification of six Universal Employee Engagement Drivers on which the top one percent of employers-the winning workplaces-scored significantly higher.

Some of our other findings were new or ran counter to conventional wisdom, such as:

  • While most companies see declines in employee engagement during recessions, some employers show actual gains by implementing practices available to all.
  • Employee benefits have risen dramatically in the last few years on the hierarchy of factors that raise or lower discretionary effort.
  • Larger employers--those with more than 150 employees in one location, and those with greater generational diversity, have a harder (but not impossible) path to becoming better places to work.
  • Because of recent widespread disappointment in senior leadership, senior leaders are now even more critical to employee engagement than are direct managers.
  • The employee can and must claim their half of the responsibility for engagement by knowing how to keep themselves engaged. We offer an entire chapter on this, with specific guidelines.

In each of the chapters dedicated to the six universal engagement drivers, readers will find practical how-to advice and best practices categorized by the challenges of organizational size, generational diversity, and the economic downturn. 

A unique interactive feature of the book is the opportunity for readers to rate their own organizations on the six universal engagement drivers and rate their own self-engagement via a link to a self-scoring web survey.  To access these surveys, go to

Keeping the People, Inc. helps organizations link employer-of-choice strategies with business strategies, conduct third-party post-exit interviews and surveys, conduct engagement surveys with current employees, and provides the management coaching and training needed to implement those strategies.

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Keeping the People Report
Keeping the People Report

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Copyright, Keeping the People, Inc. 2005. Keeping the People Report is written and edited by Leigh Branham.