Inspiring immediate managers - The fourth key pillar of employee engagement

Rogier van der Werf

As businesses go in search of higher levels of employee engagement, being (and having) an inspiring manager has never been so important. This is largely due to the fact that employees’ work experience is predominantly determined by immediate managers. Although teams also have an effect, Effectory’s research and work with global businesses has illustrated that immediate managers’ influence on work experience is greater.

Inspiring immediate managers – The fourth key pillar of employee engagement

There are several underlying reasons for this. Firstly, managers spend significant amounts of time with employees, both one to one and within the team. Secondly, managers create and shape the work environment standards. Whilst employees may spend more time with their team, it is managers who ultimately set the precedent for employees’ work environment. Lastly, the decisions that managers take have a more frequent and direct influence on employees.

Important responsibilities

Whilst the focus of business leaders’ tends to be more concerned with enabling long-term performance, immediate managers are concerned with processes and execution. Their responsibilities include team selection, the setting and monitoring of expectations, and making sure that processes are both effective and efficient.

Across organisations there is a huge variety in immediate managers. Unfortunately for businesses, there seems to be no one winning style of management. It all comes down to the situation and what works best with particular employees. The importance of managers has however, never been so high. As businesses go in search of increasingly higher engagement and commitment, being (and having) a good immediate manager has never been so crucial.

Key takeaways

  • Employees are largely satisfied with their immediate manager
  • The ability of managers’ to motivate has improved
  • Immediate managers’ people skills have got better
  • Employee feedback is underutilised

Global Employee Engagement Index™

A comprehensive overview of employee engagement with benchmarks from 57 countries with essential lessons for your HR strategy .


Focus areas

A decision was made to focus on the following three key areas:

  • Motivation
  • Feedback
  • People management

Immediate managers today are expected to multi-task. That said, Effectory has learnt over the years that the most inspiring immediate managers have the ability to motivate the workforce, give and receive feedback and are effective people managers.

Motivating employees

Good managers bring out the best in employees and motivate them to perform. In motivating employees, managers have a positive effect on individual and team productivity, teamwork and performance. How motivational managers are can be the difference between missing and achieving targets.

Alongside the above benefits, motivation plays a key part in employee engagement. Effectory’s research has demonstrated a clear link between the two. Principally, when employees are effectively motivated by their immediate managers, they are four times more likely to be engaged in their work, as well as committed to the organisation.

The current state of affairs

Over the last two years immediate managers have got better at motivating employees. Comparisons with the last survey show a noticeable change in employee reaction. Global opinions on how effectively immediate managers are in motivation vary enormously. At one end around one in five employees feels their manager highly motivates them, whereas at the opposite end 15% of employees feel their immediate manager demotivates them.

In Europe the percentage of employees that feel their manager demotivates them is slightly higher at 18%. The same goes for Oceania, where 16% of employees are demotivated by their manager.

Throughout Asia, far fewer in the workforce feel that their manager highly motivates them. Other regions fare differently. Immediate managers in Africa are most motivational, with more than one in four employees stating their manager highly motivates them. Alongside Africa, employees in both North America and South America are also positive about their immediate managers’ motivational abilities.

Motivation across industries

Overall the reactions from employees across all industries is reasonably positive. The results of the study showed that there are far more positive employees than negative ones when it comes to having a motivational manager.

Leading the way, managers in agriculture are the most effective motivators. Slightly further back, immediate managers in the more labour intensive industries such as construction, engineering and the maritime industry are also good motivators.

In similar fashion to other sections of the study, the most negative reactions received come from the more bureaucratic industries such as government and healthcare.

How managers can effectively motivate employees

  • Get to know employees and what motivates them. Knowing what drives people is key to successfully maintaining their motivation.
  • Apply situational leadership where possible. Unfortunately there’s no one single magic leadership style, as such a balance of several styles is best suited to keeping employees motivated in the long term.
  • Establish a good match between the employee and the position they are in. When employees like their position and the work they do, the motivation to perform follows naturally.


At its core, feedback is about performance. Employees, immediate managers and C-suite all need feedback at work. Without it, people work in environments where they are oblivious to their performance.

For managers it is especially important. In order for managers to be effective, it is essential that they both give and receive feedback. Only by creating a continuous cycle of feedback are managers able to help employees improve their performance. Feedback does not just affect performance however. It also positively affects employees’ motivation, work engagement and organisational commitment. Further, feedback is also an essential part of enabling managers to improve their own performance.

The current state of affairs

Effectory’s research investigated three aspects in feedback: if managers are open to suggestions, if managers praise employees and if managers discuss improvement points with employees. Of the three aspects, employees are most positive about the openness of their manager to suggestions.

Over 60% of employees worldwide indicated that their manager is open to suggestions. Generally speaking, there was little regional difference across the globe. The majority of the regions were in and around the global average with the exception of Africa, where 70% of employees feel their manager is open to suggestions.

One area where immediate managers can improve is in praising employees. At present too few employees feel that their manager lets them know when they perform well. Globally, less than one in five employees receives regular praise. Whilst this percentage does rise in Africa and Oceania, employees in Asia are less positive about the frequency of their managers telling them they have performed well.

Lastly, around two third of employees are told that of areas and points of improvement. Immediate managers in both North and South America are more forthcoming about giving performance related feedback. In North America 68% of employees stated that managers told them if their performance can be improved, while 67% of employees in South America also responded positively.

People management

The added value of being a good people manager is often overlooked. Knowing employees professionally and personally, having a good working relationship and treating employees with respect are all part of good people management. When immediate managers achieve this, both employee engagement and productivity within their team increases.

For this to happen however, organisations should not forget that managing people is a job itself. It requires talent and requires the right person for the job. Unfortunately, this does not always happen.

Far too often employees are given management positions based on the criteria of either being the best in their current role or having the most seniority; not because they have great people management skills. And it is a real shame when this happens. Managers without the skills or talent are not able to help teams or employees realise their potential, which results in (at best) mediocrity becoming the accepted standard.

The current state of affairs

Since the previous global survey was conducted employees are more positive about the working relationship with their manager. Around 70% of employees globally reported a good relationship with their manager. Of the percentage, a little under one third reported a having an excellent relationship. Across the six global regions the majority of employees are positive. The only exception is in Asia, where employee-manager relationships are some of the most strained.

Alongside this, employees are also generally positive about the level of respect they are treated with by their immediate manager. Although there has been little change since the previous survey, employees still remain positive.
Further, less than 10% of employees worldwide feel their manager treats them disrespectfully. One of the most respectful regions is South America, where more than 80% of employees report having a respectful manager.


Some of the best working relationships between managers and employees appear to be at either end of the age spectrum. Alongside employees that are under 25, company’s most senior employees (66 and older) report having a very good relationship with their manager. Between the two extremes the majority of employees are also relatively positive.

A similar trend appears in the level of respect that employees feel they are treated with by their manager. Employees up to the age of 24 feel very positively, as do organisation’s most senior employees. Despite the majority of positive reactions, a proportion of the workforce feel that respect is lacking. Specifically, employees between the ages of 45 and 54 currently feel that their manager doesn’t treat them with the respect they would like.

How businesses can help foster great people managers

  • Create a clear profile of the qualities that an immediate manager needs to have. For current managers, use this profile to examine which aspects managers may require assistance with and offer training and/or coaching to fill any gaps.
  • Accept employee dissatisfaction as a fact. If employees are critical about managers and the way the approach the personal side of management, what is important is that managers are able to accept the dissatisfaction as a fact. Taking time to digest the comments is helpful. The most important focus in the process is the future and what both managers and employees feel can be improved.
  • Delegate the unnecessary manager tasks. Immediate managers are often extremely busy with multiple tasks and duties. If too much time is taken up by these, it leaves minimal time for managers to develop and pay attention to relationships with employees. To free up managers’ time discuss whether there are employees within the team who are willing and able to take on some of the tasks and duties.

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