Most leaders mistakenly believe employees are highly engaged and loyal

Leaders across a variety of industries tend to overestimate employee engagement, revealing a major gap between what leaders think and what worker’s experience — and potentially leading to an “engagement crisis,” according to a May 16 report from Right Management, a talent and career management brand under ManpowerGroup.

In a survey, 83% of leaders responding said they believe their workforce is fully engaged, but only 48% of employees said they would categorize themselves as fully engaged.

“Right Management’s research is a wake-up call to leaders everywhere. Employees are not as engaged and loyal as leaders think they are,” Karel van der Mandele, SVP of Right Management North America, said in a statement. “Fortunately, the research also shows what leaders need to do to improve engagement, and that is to invest in their talent and career development.”

In surveys of more than 400 leaders and 1,000 employees in the U.S. and Canada, employees expressed less loyalty than leaders perceived. Although three-quarters of employees said they’d like to stay at their organization for the “foreseeable future,” half said they were open to taking a job elsewhere.

Engagement was also linked to retention — but in what may be a surprising way. Only highly engaged employees were more likely to remain at their organizations, while those who were somewhat engaged were just as likely to leave as disengaged employees.

Notably, the least engaged employees included mid-career and middle-layer workers. Those who were at their organizations for three to five years were most likely to say they were actively looking for a new job.

At the same time, investments in employee development can improve engagement and retention, according to the report. Employees want to be engaged and productive but need additional support from leaders to meet their needs. Companies can prioritize employee engagement by offering career management and talent development opportunities, particularly for mid-career and middle-layer workers.

Employers’ perceptions of employee engagement appear to differ from reality, according to a Gallagher report. Even so, only half of employers said they conducted an in-depth employee engagement survey during the past two years, which could contribute to the disconnect, the report concluded.

In addition, employees don’t necessarily understand what “engagement” means or what their organization is doing to increase engagement, according to a Gartner report. Workers said they want leaders to take more action after employee feedback and make engagement initiatives more relevant to them.

Some generations, in particular, have shown sharp declines in engagement in recent years, especially older millennials, according to a Gallup report. The lack of engagement has negative implications for retention, with younger workers being more likely to actively look for new jobs, a Gallup researcher said.