Employee Experience

How to empower leaders to drive engagement

At the end of 2020, we asked 11,800 employees about their experiences at work in order to find out what matters most to them. We heard loud and clear: managers play a critical role in the employee experience. Leaders continue to influence almost every key driver of employee engagement – whether it’s well-being, belonging, or resilience.

As we navigate changing working environments, it’s critical that we give leaders feedback to understand their strengths and weaknesses so they can develop, lead stronger teams, and drive engagement. And it’s not just leaders who need feedback. All employees need to understand how to adapt, increase their own resilience, and develop skills that will have an impact on their careers and your organization.

To that end, we’ve taken a closer look at the impact leaders have on company culture, how to use data to understand and improve employee engagement, as well as shared our tips for driving engagement at your organization.

How do leaders influence organizational culture? 

Leaders influence organizational culture along every step of the employee journey. It starts with hiring those who align with the organization’s values and add to the culture.

During the onboarding process, leaders convey the culture by making new members feel welcome and like they belong. Employees who trust their managers, believe that they care about them as individuals, and listen to their perspectives experience a high sense of belonging – a top driver of employee engagement.

XM Institute research also suggests that even before people become employees, they place a high degree of importance on their future relationship with their immediate manager. This desire ranked ahead of other employer benefits and characteristics, such as compensation and career advancement opportunities.

At the moments that matter, effective leaders set the example for how they expect their teams to perform and behave. They set the norms and act as a role model in their everyday interactions with the team. They also consistently and continuously communicate about values, mission, and strategy.

Leaders also communicate about reward and recognition. During the performance management process, leaders reinforce company culture by rewarding behaviors that are positive towards organizational outcomes.

Read more: 9 ways to be a more effective manager

How can leaders use data to improve employee engagement? 

Enduring engagement drivers like listening and feeling supported have remained stable despite the upheavals caused by COVID-19. But we have also seen new drivers emerge, including belonging, corporate social responsibility, and career development.

Employee engagement tools can help leaders stay in touch with what’s top of mind for employees. If you’re unsure of where to get started with understanding engagement drivers, these three steps can help:

Step #1 Start with a sound tool to measure engagement and a survey that’s well-designed – that is, one that measures outcomes as well as drivers.

Get started with the Qualtrics free surveys

Step #2 Understand the uniqueness of your organization and its drivers. While our 2021 Employee Experience Trends report revealed belonging, CSR, and career development as the top 3 drivers of engagement, they might not be the top 3 drivers at your organization. A well-designed survey will reveal what your employee engagement drivers are (see step 1).

Step #3 Go deep into the data to identify experience gaps by segment. Experience gaps will vary across your organization (e.g., department to department), so slice the data in order to understand the differences and move the needle on closing those gaps.

What is the role of leadership in employee engagement? 

Understanding employee engagement drivers starts with data, but the conversation doesn’t end there. Leaders must also be intentional with their actions, listening to the needs of their people, and then acting on that feedback accordingly.

In order to help employees feel supported – and positively influence employee engagement – leaders can:

  • Manage workload: Workload is a powerful buffer to workforce safety and resilience. Research from our 2020 Global Workforce Resilience Report revealed that employees who were at capacity in terms of workload felt the best about safety and resilience. Those employees with workloads both far below and over their capacity expressed negative views of safety and resilience – further highlighting the critical importance of workload balance.
  • Meet employees where they are: Employees’ concerns – and what’s important to them – will change over time. Listening tools will allow leaders to tune in to those evolving needs.
  • Support career development: Good, effective managers will consistently bring up career development conversations and help you seek opportunities that will stretch you and align to your career goals.
  • Build trust: Leaders build trust with their teams by soliciting feedback, as well as taking action on feedback; being open, honest, and vulnerable; and bringing his or her authentic self to work. When leaders demonstrate their humanity – and bring their whole selves to work – they invite employees to do the same.
  • Give employees the tools they need for their jobs: Whether it’s navigating red tape on an employee’s behalf or approving the purchase of a job-specific tool, managers enable and empower their people by helping to remove barriers.

Learn 3 ways to boost employee well-being at your organization.

Tips for actioning feedback to drive employee engagement

We know asking for feedback is the critical first step in influencing employee engagement. But while listening is a good place to start, what matters more is taking action on the feedback you receive.

This is where businesses have a lot of room to improve. While employees feel that acting on feedback matters more than ever, companies aren’t closing the gap between feedback and action. Our research shows that only 7% of employees felt that their employer acted on feedback “extremely well.” And since 2019, companies have actually become worse at acting on feedback.

While data shows the perception that companies are either not taking action or not acting well on feedback has increased, it may be there is a disconnect between action and the perception of action.

If this is the case for your organization, here are several tips for actioning feedback and supporting engagement:

  • Pick one or two areas of feedback to focus on and – do them right.
  • Focus on opportunities that will drive engagement. A comprehensive driver analysis will tell you what to focus on.
  • Invite your team to brainstorm ideas. Asking them to share their opinions creates an inclusive environment where everyone feels like they belong and their voice matters.

Communicate actions that have come as a result from the feedback provided to close the feedback loop. A good way to mitigate the perception that your organization isn’t taking action is to simply open up lines of communication.


Get started driving engagement with the right measurement tools