A Fine Employee Engagement Line: Managers, Are You Too Hands Off?

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Engage. Empower. Inspire. Motivate—It’s the mantra of every manager on the planet.

 “Engaged employees are more productive,” you’re told. “Empowered employees think outside the box and see opportunities.” “Inspired employees are self-motivated and want to do their best.” There are more tips online on how to inspire, engage, motivate and empower employees than you could read in a lifetime.

But, says author and speaker Bruce Tulgan, the biggest myth of employee empowerment is that “people do their best work when you leave them alone.”

“People do their best work when they have guidance, direction, support and coaching from a more experienced person,” he counters.

In an effort to encourage outside-the-box thinking, new ideas and greater engagement, managers are frequently advised to allow workers more autonomy; to give them the freedom to test their own ideas; to stop micromanaging and welcome failure; to communicate the goals and parameters and then step back and trust them.

But Tulgan suggests this sink-or-swim mentality isn’t empowerment but rather negligence. It leads to employees’ wasting time heading in the wrong direction, squandering resources. Low-performing employees hide out unnoticed.  High performers get frustrated by the lack of differentiation or recognition for their efforts. Rather than delegating, managers hang onto tasks that keep them from spending time with their people.

Managing people takes time. Building rapport means getting to know each of your workers and spending one-on-one time with them every day, from the moment you hire them.

Got a mentor program? Your new employee is probably thrilled to have someone they can go to with questions and for clarification. But they want time with the boss. They crave a connection … to be noticed for their work … by you. “In large corporations, this is especially true,” reports inc.com, “since employees can feel isolated or unrecognized in a vast sea of workers.”

You need a strong rapport with each person on your team. Spending time with them only when something unusually good or bad happens doesn’t build strong rapport. You need to make time to roll up your sleeves and coach them every day. You need to make time for one-on-one talks that can help an employee work through challenges and let them know you value them and their work.

Are you inspirational? Are you passionate about your work? Do you lead by example? Obviously, no one wants a boss who’s unenthusiastic about the job or company. But passion alone cannot make you a good manager. Give your workers individual attention and time. Help them grow.


  1. Great article Brenda, do you think the move to digital has a good effect on time spend? Or do you think it will decline (even more)?

    1. Hi Wesley – Thanks for reading! I think digital can only help–enabling us to quickly and easily check in, thank, or question what’s going on. But, it doesn’t take the place of a manager talking directly with workers. Digital is just another tool to makes the conversations more convenient and timely. Ideally, it would just increase the interaction with little change in the time spent.
      I’d love to hear about your experiences or thoughts as well.

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