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How Does Employee Competency Impact Employee Engagement?


Wondering what your company could (or should) be doing to increase employee engagement?

The short answer is “a lot.”

The slightly longer and more useful explanation is that there are precisely 17 drivers of employee engagement that directly impact how motivated a workforce will be.

Some of those drivers are relatively straightforward and easy to guess. In fact, they may already be a focus for your people officers and leadership team. If you’re already working toward fostering a sense of trust and helping people find more meaning, purpose, and autonomy at work, you’re well on your way to addressing some of the most mission-critical engagement drivers.

However, some of the other key drivers are not quite as obvious.

These are the ones that can be easily mistaken as issues that don’t relate directly to engagement — even though their impacts can be significant. Among these lesser-known employee engagement drivers is one that has the potential to prevent people from doing their best work.

It can lead to mistrust.

It could cause otherwise eager employees to step back on contributions.

Left unchecked, it might even drive some individuals to consider leaving.

So, what is this all-important driver? Competency.

What makes competency an employee engagement driver?

At its core, job competency refers to how well an employees’ abilities match the challenges of his or her work.

The definition seems simple enough. But if your staffers’ skills are not consistently matched to the right responsibilities, the impacts can be severe. When employees feel they’re being tasked with work that extends too far beyond their current capabilities, they can easily become overwhelmed or fall behind — and the quality of work being produced will likely suffer.

Unfortunately, this problem is more persistent than many companies realize. Just 41% of surveyed employees agree that the work they’re being asked to do aligns with their job descriptions. And while team members need to know what’s expected of them to succeed, just 60% understand what those expectations are.

Those same employees crave competency from their bosses, too. When given the choice, research shows that most people would rather work for a competent jerk than a friendly, but ultimately less competent, boss. This means it’s equally imperative to make sure your managers are equipped to handle the various responsibilities that come with leading teams.

So yes, competency matters. A lot. Put simply: The more competent employees and managers become at their jobs, the more engaged your teams will be.

When competency becomes a barrier instead of a benefit

While most of us understand the critical importance of competency in the workplace, few view it through the lens of employee engagement. Yet this key driver can have a big impact on the level of motivation people bring with them to the workplace each day.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that you’ve probably experienced the impacts of overextended employees at some point, perhaps without even realizing what was actually causing them to become unenthusiastic and disengaged.

For example, if you’re a manager:

When an employee makes a mistake — and all team members will make mistakes from time to time — how do you handle the outcomes? Do you work with the individual to find fixes and help set them up for success in the future? Or react in ways that make them a little less likely to trust your advice moving forward?

When you delegate assignments, are you thinking about opportunities for individuals to develop new skills and learn from peers? Or is your primary focus on who can get what done the fastest?

Competency isn’t a one-and-done matter of matching the right skills to the right individual. It’s an ongoing process with a lot of factors at play. Offering opportunities for professional development, providing ongoing feedback, and creating an environment where employees can safely pursue new goals are all ways to enhance core competencies. And when you increase competency, engagement levels are sure to increase.

In conclusion: You can roll out all kinds of initiatives and programs, but if people don’t feel their job roles match current skill sets, engagement will still suffer. Thankfully, there’s a relatively easy way to find out if your employees feel competent at their jobs. By regularly measuring key employee engagement drivers, you can quickly identify areas for improvement and determine what needs to change.

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