The UK Big Life Work Survey

Levels of Management Engagement

John Backhouse

During the Summer of 2016 Harris Interactive conducted a survey of the working population asking them about their perceptions about many aspects of their working lives. The purpose of this survey was multifaceted, with key objectives:

  1. to investigate any possible differences between traditional employee survey benchmarks and the opinion of the general population (who may or may not work in an organisation which may conduct or doesn’t conduct an employee survey);
  2. to investigate specific differences in opinion within this population by many various demographic cuts and segments e.g. engaged Vs. disengaged

There were many startling findings that bucked the trends found in traditional survey benchmarking including our own, but one of the most interesting was when we delved into the detail by key subpopulations.

It is commonly published that people leave organisations because of their immediate manager, so we investigated some of the differences in opinions given by disengaged managers (DM) Vs engaged managers (EM).

Leadership key findings:

  • 3% of disengaged managers (DM) are satisfied with the leadership of their organisation Vs. 90% of engaged managers (EM)
  • 4% feel their leadership are doing the right things to make their organisation a success Vs. 91% of EM
  • 5% feel their leadership encourage peoples’ ideas and opinions Vs. 86% of EM
  • 0% feel their leadership set a good example Vs. 87% of EM
  • 0% trust their leadership Vs. 87% of EM
  • 0% feel their leadership keep their promises Vs 83% EM
  • 2% feel consulted on changes that will affect them Vs 85% of EM
  • 5% feel they are involved in changes that happen Vs 82% EM

We see that disengaged managers seem to give a zero vote of confidence in the leadership of their organisations.

Managers are the go between to pass important information through to their direct reports, to help manage important change and to feed back up the ideas and opinions. If disengaged managers have zero trust in their leadership then this vital chain is immediately broken.

Organisational understanding key findings:

  • 29% have a clear understanding of what their organisation is trying to achieve compared to 97% of EM
  • 7% feel that their organisation is focused on the right things to make it a success for the future compared to 97% of EM!
  • 12% feel their organisation has the right people to make it a success Vs 94% EM
  • 12% feel their organisation recruits the right people to make it a success Vs 83% EM
  • 83% are detractors measured on the Harris Employee Net Promoter Score Rating, Vs. 6% of EM.

The Harris ENPS measures employee propensity to recommend the products and services of the organisation they work for. Disengaged managers don’t feel their organisation is focused on the right things, and don’t have a clear understanding of what their organisation is trying to achieve.

If they don’t understand their organisations ambitions, how can these managers then translate this to their own direct reports? How can they sell the purpose of their organisation to win the hearts and minds of their team if they don’t believe in that purpose themselves?

Communication skills key findings:

  • Only 14% feel their own manager has good people management skills compared to 86% of EM
  • 12% feel their manager keeps them up to date Vs. 87% of EM
  • 7% feel their manager gives them regular feedback on their performance that would help them improve Vs. 85% of EM
  • 9% feel they get the communication they need to do their job effectively Vs 92% EM
  • 12% feel their opinions count at work Vs. 91% EM
  • 7% generally find things out via official channels Vs. 83% EM. Or to look at this another way, 78% find things out via non-official channels (there were 15% neither/nor)
  • 10% feel their organisation proves that employee well-being is a top priority Vs 90% EM

Are disengaged managers being managed by other disengaged managers?

An engaged manager would potentially have better communication with their direct reports, and give them regular feedback, all part of having good people manager skills.

Career key findings:

  • 12% have had their career paths and requirements to progress explained to them Vs. 84% of EM
  • 5% are satisfied with the opportunity to progress their career Vs. 87% of EM. However, 41% feel they are personally responsible for pushing their own career Vs. 90% of EM
  • 5% feel valued and appreciated Vs. 91% of EM

Career development is typically a high driver of engagement in many organisations and is also often a determinant of if you feel valued by your organisation, so no surprise that disengaged managers have such a low level of satisfaction.

Remember though that these are direct managers themselves, so If they have low satisfaction and information in relation to their own career development, would this impact on their capacity for helping the career progress of those they manage?

Career move key findings:

  • 60% see their job as just a job for now, not a career, compared to only 12% of engaged managers (EM).
  • 24% see their job as a part of a career that may take them elsewhere, compared to 16% of EM.

There is a low correlation between disengagement and propensity to leave.

There’s a much higher propensity for the disengaged manager to be hanging around in the organisation, and just because they are disengaged, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are much more likely to want to leave and progress their career elsewhere.

Comparing this general outlook to benchmark surveys

One question you may wish to consider in all the above is how this compares to the scores collected via a traditional benchmark, or in a traditional employee survey. Well in general the scores given in the traditional benchmark tend to be more favourable. If you consider what type of organisation may pay to have an employee survey conducted for them, would you assume that they may be a better organisation to work for just by the fact that they are concerned enough about their employees’ opinion to invest in and commission a survey? When comparing your own employee opinion, do you want to know how your employees compare to those of other organisations paying for an employee survey with that 1 provider, or would you like to know how they compare to how people are feeling in a wider mix?

If you’d like to find out more about our employee research expertise, and how we can help drive improved levels of engagement throughout your organisation, get in touch today.


  • employee engagement
  • employee power