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By Darryl Stewart
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The most important factor in employee engagement is…?

It is you, silly.

If you lead anyone in the workplace, the things you do and the way you do them matter far more than anything else to the team you lead. Not pay or benefits, not the way your boss acts around your team, not the quality of the holiday party. How you go about your duties is the most important thing to those who see you as their leader.

This point is proven conclusively by Gallup studies of large, multiple-location corporations. Gallup has employee engagement data for large chains and can compare the data from store to store and from department to department. Gallup finds high employee engagement is always clustered around individual front-line leaders. Two stores in the same chain, in the same city, can have drastically different engagement levels. Employees in both stores are paid the same, have the same fringe benefits, wear the same uniforms, have the same tools and equipment, and fall under the same regional manager. The only real difference is who their direct boss is.

When I first became aware of this research many years ago, I was hit hard by the realization that it was my personal actions that most determined whether my team would be engaged. I did not even know where to begin to improve my leadership performance.

Luckily, Gallup provides some guidance in this regard. In my all-time favourite book about how to lead people – First, Break All the Rules – they take the research one step further and actually study the high performance leaders that they find during their engagement research. If you want a guide for how to be a good leader of people, I highly recommend this book.

If you want to get started today, before the book arrives, Gallup recommends that the basic starting point is for you to take the time to make sure that each member of your team:

  • has the right tools and equipment to do their job well; and
  • knows what your expectations are of them.

If you have not taken care of these two things, almost everything else is a waste of time.


  • trying to motivate someone about the importance of reaching a big annual goal when they don’t have a proper computer to do the work; or
  • trying to help someone feel better about their performance at work by explaining the purpose and vision of the organization, when the real problem is they don’t understand what you need them to do every day.

You can do more harm than good to engagement if you are working to motivate people in other ways, without these two essentials covered first.

Get the book. It changed my life as a leader.

IBEX Payroll extends our profound respect and immeasurable gratitude to all the ancestors and keepers of the land on whose traditional territories our work takes place. We acknowledge that we are on Treaty 1 territory, the traditional gathering place of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Dene people and the traditional homeland of the Métis people. This land is sacred, historical, and significant. 

Every time we acknowledge this truth, we have an invitation and an opportunity to reflect on the wrongs of the past, what we do in the present, and what we can do to continually honour the people whose lands and water we benefit from today. 

This statement only acts as a first step in honouring the land we reside on and its peoples, and must be paired with education, understanding and informed action.