At last! The right question about employee engagement is being asked, by Howard Risher, writing for Management Matters by Government Executive.

The 2016 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey is now history. I am working with a group associated with a federal organization that recently reported the results of a similar survey conducted by Gallup.  There are differences in the surveys, but both focus on employee engagement.

A key difference (and I have no ties to Gallup) is that using the Gallup survey makes it possible to compare responses and identify weaknesses relative to practices in thousands of other organizations.  The organization in question learned its workforce is badly demoralized. When compared with other survey organizations, it’s one of the worst workplaces in the United States.

Another difference is the way the survey results are reported. Gallup categorizes respondents as “engaged”, “not engaged” or “actively disengaged.” The current breakdown nationally is roughly 33 percent engaged, 50 percent not engaged, and 16 percent actively disengaged.  The latter group are problem employees. They add to employer costs—higher absenteeism, higher grievances, lower productivity, lower customer satisfaction, higher waste, etc. Many are disruptive. They also experience higher levels of stress and related health problems.

Organizations with high levels of engaged employees perform significantly better. Their productivity holds down costs. Their employees also benefit from high levels of job satisfaction.

The newly revised FEVS questionnaire uses questions similar to Gallup’s but the results have been reported differently. The Engagement Index is an aggregate measure, not an individual measure. The Office of Personnel Management could—and should—generate results similar to Gallup’s. OPM focuses in its public reports on raising engagement scores. It would be advantageous to identify work units where serious morale problems exist. Hopefully OPM is also using the FEVS data to identify the best people managers.

The Overlooked Issue: Leader Accountability

The articles and reports on engagement focus on managers and their effectiveness as supervisors.  The role of managers is a thread that runs through both this year’s FEVS survey and the Gallup survey.

Research from a number of engagement studies shows managers are front and center. Where there is a high performing team, there is inevitably a great manager. Conversely, the research also shows that where there is high turnover, a manager is a contributing factor. An often quoted statement attributed to Gallup is, “People leave managers not companies.”

But what has not been highlighted is that engagement is important at every level. It’s as important to the performance of senior executives as it is to the lowest level workers. That’s probably not too surprising.

The unreported factor is that it’s very unlikely that a manager who is not engaged or actively disengaged is going to be a good manager. In the 2015 FEVS results the engagement of managers/supervisors was only moderately higher than nonsupervisory staff.

Significantly Gallup’s analyses confirm that patterns of engagement cascade from level to level. If senior executives are not engaged, there is little chance the next level of management will be highly engaged. The pattern would likely carry over to succeeding levels.

That no doubt makes complete sense for anyone who has had the misfortune of working for a manager who is angry about his career status.

The bottom line is that agency leaders along with senior executives should be accountable for and take an active role in creating a work environment that contributes to high levels of engagement.  Where employees are apathetic, disconnected, uncooperative—that is, disengaged—it should be seen as a senior management failure. Executives should be held accountable for employee engagement.