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When it comes to employee engagement strategies, the responsibility mainly falls on managers to ensure that employees remain engaged in the workplace.

Meanwhile, Gallup's employee engagement data shows that only 15% of employees worldwide and just 34% in the U.S. are engaged.

Gallup's research also shows that only 10% of human beings are naturally wired to be great managers, even though others can acquire management skills. 

Still, companies only appoint managers with the right skills 18% of the time. As a result, they experience low employee engagement.

Unfortunately, many companies miss the mark when addressing employee engagement issues—it's not always as easy as introducing new rewards and incentives or investing in team bonding activities. Sometimes, it requires more of a reflective approach—where managers have to evaluate how their actions affect employees.

Terrible employee engagement strategies

This article analyzes some of those terrible strategies and practices managers use when managing employees.

1. Setting unrealistic expectations at work and threatening job security

In many companies, managers set very high, somewhat unrealistic, goals for their workers. These goals are often followed by threats to their jobs, such as firing them, cutting their pay, or demoting them.

Many employees in sales roles can relate to this practice done by managers. In a 2017 CBC report, three employees at a TD Bank in Canada described their experience with unrealistic goals and job insecurity. In their roles, which had a sales component, they were under extreme pressure to meet unrealistic quarterly sales revenue goals—leading them to drive sales by upselling products and services that customers didn't need.

Even further, the company placed those employees who failed to reach their sales goals on a Performance Improvement Plan, and the ones who were unable to improve their sales performance were threatened with job termination.

Though a manager may think this approach is the "right" way, employees can stay productive. However, this cutthroat approach incurs hidden costs. The heightened stress in such environments will likely lead to low employee engagement or costly high turnover.

Gallup's State of the American Workplace Report shows that actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. $483 billion to $605 billion each year in lost productivity. 

Therefore, it's important to avoid setting unrealistic expectations or using intimidating tactics for employees.

2. Playing favorites

Humans naturally tend to play favorites since some people are more likable than others. In many workplaces, it's quite common to find managers who play favorites. Favoritism typically involves a manager giving one employee special privileges—usually based on a personal relationship— to another employee's disadvantage.

Favoritism occurs in many ways.

For example, a manager may bypass a well-deserving employee for a promotion or pay raise in favor of their preferred employee. The manager may also give their favorite employee choice assignments or send them to any conference they want to attend. Even during disciplinary measures, the manager may reprimand other employees, not their favorite employee—who may have similar poor performance or behavior.

A few studies have been conducted about favoritism in the workplace. In a 2014 study of 303 business executives in the U.S., 56% of them admitted to having favorite candidates in mind during internal promotion decisions, and 96% of them promoted their favorites without considering objective criteria.

In another study of federal employees by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, 30% of HR professionals agreed that supervisors practice favoritism in their organizations.

The issue with favoritism is that it affects the morale and productivity of the affected employee and other employees witnessing it. The study on federal employees mentioned above showed that bias reduces employee satisfaction and engagement, causes a high turnover, and leads to conflict.

Think about a time when you witnessed favoritism in the workplace—either as the favorite employee or the one who wasn't. If you fell into the latter category, it probably didn't make you feel good about your job. Now that you're in a leadership position, it's critical to know that playing favorites disrupts employee engagement.

3. Micromanaging employees

Some managers apply a hands-on approach to every task their employees perform. This excessive control is known as micromanagement.

According to HRZone, micromanagement is "a management style characterized by extremely close supervision and control of the minor details of an individual's workload and output." 

It often involves telling employees what to do and how to do it, looking over employees' work, criticizing people for their mistakes, or taking back previously-assigned tasks from employees.

Usually, managers tend to make a case for their actions, saying that some employees are "unaccountable, poor performers, and just behave in ways that elicit higher levels of scrutiny." Others say that micromanagement helps managers ensure quality work and prevents clients' dissatisfaction with deliverables.

However, employees do not enjoy being micromanaged because it demonstrates a lack of trust, undermines their efforts, and stifles their creativity and confidence. Micromanagement creates an environment where people don't ask questions, share feedback, communicate with their managers, or understand what it takes to succeed.

Leaders need to realize that micromanagement doesn't drive up employee engagement. Instead, it reduces employee engagement. As we have discussed earlier, low employee engagement hurts businesses. It's important to give employees the autonomy to do their work and be innovative in reaching performance goals.

4. Failing to recognize employees

Different studies have analyzed the impact employee recognition has on businesses. However, it seems that many managers are still failing to recognize their employees.

According to an article published by Workhuman, there are several reasons why managers fail to recognize their employees. Managers claim they are too busy with responsibilities to notice what employees are doing. 

Some managers don't believe in employee recognition because they believe that employees are being paid to do their jobs, and they also fear that it will make employees feel entitled to a pay raise. Others don't recognize their employees because they don't know how to.

This article will reiterate that employee recognition improves performance productivity and drives better employee engagement in organizations.

In a survey conducted by the SHRM in collaboration with Globoforce, 84% of respondents agreed that employee recognition positively impacts employee engagement.

Managers need to embrace and promote a recognition-rich workplace, not just because it improves business outcomes but because it makes employees feel appreciated and motivated to do their best work.

5. Offering meaningless incentives

In workplaces where managers understand that it's important to recognize employees, some managers may not make the extra effort to ensure that it's meaningful.

For example, when companies offer discretionary bonuses to employees for meeting organizational goals, they usually do not disclose the bonus amount and criteria. If employees don't understand the rationale behind the bonus they received and what they need to do in the future to improve their share, or if they discover that everyone on their team received the same amount, employees may see those bonuses as meaningless.

According to The Business Journals, companies should offer structured performance-based incentives. These incentives are "clear, consistent, realistic, measurable, and focus on improving company value."

Also, employers need to offer incentives that employees are interested in—they don't have to be financial incentives. In an opinion piece by Wharton management professors Adam Grant and Jitendra Singh, strong financial incentives can lead to unintended consequences such as crossing ethical boundaries to earn them or creating feelings of pay inequality.

Instead, employers should offer more meaningful incentives to employees by providing a wide range of incentives. Meaningful incentives can help to boost morale, improve productivity, and motivate employees to continue performing well. Employers need to give employees a choice to select their preferred motivations.

For example, on Empuls global catalog of incentives, employees can choose from several options to find what motivates them.


We have established that managers directly influence employee engagement—or disengagement. We also realize that business leaders are not exempt from this responsibility.

When leaders demonstrate poor leadership skills and exhibit intimidation, bias, and a lack of support and accountability, they negatively influence employee engagement and other business outcomes. Where there's low employee engagement, productivity, profitability, customer ratings, and critical performance outcomes suffer.

Leaders must communicate with employees by sharing their vision, organizational goals, decisions, and outcomes to positively influence employee engagement.

It's also imperative for leaders to listen to employees' feedback through formal or informal channels, such as pulse surveys, feedback sessions, one-on-one meetings, team meetings, or internal communication platforms. Employees need to know and understand that their voices count.

Also, HR plays a significant role in influencing employee engagement by designing, implementing, and evaluating policies and practices that foster a positive work environment.

Therefore, to avoid these horrific employee engagement practices, HR leaders need to equip their business leaders and managers with the proper learning and tools to succeed in their responsibilities.

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Osasumwen Arigbe, PHR

Osasumwen Arigbe, PHR LinkedIn

Osasu is an HR professional and content writer. She has a Master’s degree in HRM from Georgetown University. She writes about important HR topics, and providing relevant information to her audience.