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If employees aren't motivated, it's poor management that is to blame, a new survey suggests.

The poll of human resources managers at 368 Canadian companies found 69 per cent consider low employee engagement a major issue in their organization. And 82 per cent said that they feel their management should be doing more to address employee engagement.

"The thing that really stood out is they overwhelmingly pointed the blame on management. They said it wasn't so much the employees who are lacking motivation, but that their direct managers or senior management are not creating conditions that make employees feel engaged," said Shawn Bakker, a psychologist, with Edmonton-based Psychometrics Canada, which did the survey.

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A majority of the HR managers said executives are falling down in four areas. Seventy one per cent said managers should listen more to employees' opinions, 68 per cent said they fail to communicate clear expectations, 58 per cent said they need to give more recognition and praise and 57 per cent said they need to provide more learning and development opportunities.

The result suggests a more direct approach to improving engagement is needed, he said. "Some management theories talk about listening to employees and having them ask for what they want. But it turns out that's challenging for most employees," Mr. Bakker said.

"It's uncomfortable when you have little power yourself to go to the boss and say you want more control or to say 'I'd like it if you were communicating with me more clearly.' It's much easier for management to go the other way and say: 'Can you tell me what I need to provide you and what you feel you need to do your job better?'" he said.

"Employees can't really structure their work differently They can't grab control over their work unless they are given leeway to do it," he said. These are things that only leaders and management can exercise power over.

"I think one big message for managers is give employees more control over how they get things done and make it more clear that they have opportunities to get feedback on performance, and will provide learning experiences," Mr. Bakker said.

"This creates a tremendous opportunity to work out what seems to be a big amorphous issue in ways don't require higher paycheques and big organizational changes."

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