Though the concept of “employee engagement” is sometimes dismissed by people who see it as empty corporate jargon, it can be so much more than that.

With my team at Johns Hopkins, I make it about caring for and respecting my colleagues first. I focus on their unique contributions and talents, with the aim of helping them to realize their potential at work. After all, if people do not feel that you care about them professionally and personally, there’s little hope that they’ll feel “engaged.”

Of course, this isn’t entirely a top-down exercise. If the head of an organization is big on engagement, it doesn’t mean that everyone will be. Each person is responsible, to some extent, for nurturing the seeds of a driven, reasonably happy workforce. However, I’ve always believed that immediate supervisors actually have the greatest role to play.

I came across something that supports this point of view at the Ragan 22nd Annual Corporate Communicators Conference in Chicago. I was there as a presenter, but I sat in on a few panels, including a talk on employee engagement.

The presenter shared that the number one reason people leave a company is because of their immediate supervisor. He then walked us through the 12 questions in the Gallup Q12 survey, the tool so many organizations—including Johns Hopkins—use to measure employee engagement. Of the 12 areas assessed by the survey, 10 are the direct responsibility of the supervisor. Ten!

They are:

  • I know what is expected of me.
  • I have the materials and equipment I need.
  • I have the opportunity to do what I do best.
  • I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
  • My supervisor seems to care about me.
  • There is someone at work who encourages my development.
  • My opinion seems to count.
  • My fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
  • Someone has recently talked to me about my progress.
  • I have had opportunities to learn and grow.

If you break down each of the 10 items that the immediate supervisor has control over—for example, There is someone at work who encourages my development or I know what is expected of me—they all boil down to leaders showing their employees the care and respect that they deserve. It’s been this truth that drives me in this area, and though our department’s scores are among the highest at Johns Hopkins Medicine, my care for my team members and our institution far outweighs any numerical value that a survey may place upon it.

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