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Why Canadian Organizations Should Focus on Middle Managers to Drive Employee Engagement

Ottawa, September 25, 2018—Organizations often focus on driving engagement for the broad employee population. However, a new Conference Board of Canada report finds that focusing on managers as a distinct group of employees can drive higher engagement overall.

The report, Employee Engagement: Driving Engagement From the Middle, shows that as middle manager engagement scores improve, so do the scores of their employees. In fact, employees who work for engaged managers are 59 per cent more likely to be engaged compared to those supervised by disengaged managers.

“An organization cannot have engaged employees if managers are not actively engaged themselves. The more engaged managers are, the more time and effort they will likely spend on engaging their teams,” said Colin Hall, Associate Director, Organizational Performance, The Conference Board of Canada. “Middle managers’ engagement is often overlooked and organizations may be missing out on an opportunity to optimize their engagement strategies.”


  • Middle managers are central to an organizations’ ability to execute its business strategy. Ensuring this group is engaged is critical to organizational success; however, only one-third of middle managers are highly engaged.
  • When senior leaders focus on engaging middle managers they will also impact broader employee engagement.
  • Leadership, and specifically the confidence employees have in leadership, has the greatest influence on engagement.

Employee engagement varies depending on the employee function, role and level of responsibility. The highest-ranking employees or senior leaders are at the top engagement level, followed by middle managers, and then individual employees. Disengaged middle managers are three times more likely to have disengaged employees, who in turn, are four times as likely to consider leaving their jobs. Despite the important role middle managers play in employee engagement, only one third of Canadian middle managers are highly engaged.

Chart showing engagement by level of responsibility

Confidence in senior leadership is the most influential factor in determining engagement for both managers and workers. Trust in senior leadership and communication regarding organizational objectives are key drivers in improving the engagement of managers and workers. Addressing gaps in engagement between senior leaders and middle managers in areas such as ensuring cooperation, confidence that leaders can achieve goals, alignment in the vision for the organization, and taking pride in their contributions and success of their organizations can help boost middle managers engagement.

Employee Engagement: Driving Engagement From the Middle is a follow-up to the report Employee Engagement: Leveraging the Science to Inspire Great Performance, released by the Conference Board in 2016. Colin Hall will present the findings from this report in a live webinar on November 8.

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