Do levels of engagement vary by levels of remuneration?  As you can see above, the answer is “yes”.  The graphic shows levels of engagement split up by remuneration bands.  In other blog posts I explained what we mean by engagement, so I won’t go into it in detail again, but as a brief recap, we are defining engagement as the levels of:

  • Vigour
  • Dedication
  • Absorption

that your employees bring with them to work each day.  The graph above comes from our recent project in partnership with Deakin University to measure engagement and its causes.  The above shows the results we gained in the study by using an internationally validated measure of engagement – the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale, which was completed by in excess of 2600 people.

It is an interesting graph, because it shows two peaks.  People who are lowly paid have high levels of engagement, as do those who are paid more.   The least engaged people are those paid from $70,000 up to $150,000, which could be said to equate to middle management.

What is the reason for this?  Fortunately we have some additional data which helps to explain what is going on.  As well as levels of engagement, we asked people about their perceptions of the behaviours of the leaders they report to.  Below is a graph of a finding which may explain the disengagement of middle managers.

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These are the results of people’s responses to a question about whether their leader encouraged them to make their own decisions.  Empowerment, if you like.  You will see that the graph above mimics the ups and downs of people’s engagement very closely.  This suggests that people who are more junior are often encouraged to make their own decisions, as are those who are more senior.  The poor middle managers, on the other hand, are not encouraged to make their own decisions anywhere near as much.

One of the other activities we undertook in this study was to try to predict people’s levels of engagement from the behaviour of leaders.  We found that “encourages autonomous decision making” was one of the most important leader behaviours if you seek to have high levels of engagement.  The key message for organisations is that if you want energised, committed employees, encourage them to make their own decisions rather than micro managing them.

It seems that relatively lower paid individuals might be more empowered at the task level – “do this the best way you know how.”  The people paid over $200k, I guess they’re engaged because they own the strategy.  The middle managers seem to be the meat in the sandwich, which I find very interesting, because middle managers have been saying this for years.  They are not senior enough to call the shots, but too senior to get the pleasure of delivering the actual work.  They may also find themselves passing on the edicts of their higher ups to the employees below without having had a say in what the edicts are.

I think that this is a fantastic opportunity.  Here is a fair slice of the workforce which is significantly disengaged, which is a predictor of productivity, quality of work and client satisfaction.  Imagine if they were more engaged.  For instance, commercial organisations could expect higher levels of profit if they were able to cause the middle managers to engage more in their work.  Besides, when we consider the legion of middle managers, is it really a good thing that they are treated as though they have nothing to contribute to decision making?  I don’t believe so.  I believe organisations could achieve a double bonus by increasing their levels of engagement as well as benefitting from the quality of their ideas.  Empowerment is a good thing.  Let’s use it more.

Andrew Marty
Managing Director

Andrew Marty