According to a recent survey, many managers’ ability to motivate and engage employees is lacking. It is well known that many leaders overestimate themselves, says Professor.

Managers believe they motivate employees more than they actually do

Most Norwegian business leaders believe they are good at motivating and engaging their employees. But fewer than half of their employees agree. Older workers are least satisfied with their bosses.

Eighty percent of business managers surveyed in a recent study believe that creating commitment and motivation is a field they have mastered.

But many employees have a distinctly different opinion. Under half of the employees say that their bosses deliver on important factors that contribute to engagement.

These results are from a survey of 2 500 employees who have answered questions about their work life. Six hundred managers also answered questions on the same topics.

The managers' view of their own ability to motivate was independent of company size. Whether the boss was female or male was also not decisive in evaluating themselves in this study.

The survey was conducted by Norstat for the Stamina Helse company, and the questions were designed to identify factors that could affect employees' job health.

Common for managers to overestimate themselves

The results do not surprise Øyvind Lund Martinsen, a professor of organizational psychology. He heads the Department of Leadership and Organizational Behaviour at BI Norwegian Business School.

“It’s common in evaluations of managers to find that some of them rate their management-related skills higher than the employees do,” he says.

In the survey, managers received the worst feedback on how well they contribute to the employees' professional and personal development. Only 36 per cent of employees report that their manager contributes to a great extent or some extent in this regard.

Nor are managers perceived as being effective at providing feedback that employees can learn from. Bosses don’t contribute much to creating meaning in the work tasks, according to the employees. Only four out of ten employees say the boss is somewhat or very good at this.

It is common for some managers to rate their own management skills higher than the employees do, says professor of organizational management Øyvind Martinsen at BI.

Half of the employees not impressed by their manager

Almost one in two employees thinks their manager provides daily support in the day-to-day work and is visible daily.

Many employees are not very impressed with their manager's development and improvement efforts. Forty-eight per cent of employees say that their boss is, to some extent, a driving force for this.

Half of the employees feel that they are involved in the boss's decisions, and 53 per cent also feel that their manager sees and appreciates them.

More than half also believe that the boss is purposeful and fair.

Thus, it seems that half of the employees surveyed are not overly impressed with their manager.

Just as serious is the fact that a boss's self-insight – or lack thereof – also affects the company's profitability.

“Many studies indicate primarily that managers who overestimate their own leadership skills perform less well in the role. A large number of international studies, as well as some Norwegian ones, find this to be the case,” says Martinsen.

Some leaders also underestimate themselves, and they achieve consistently good results, he says.

“A third group of managers are those who have about the same assessment of themselves as their employees do. The highest scoring in this group for the most part perform very well in their role as manager,” says Martinsen.

Better information and more transparency

“I think the results of the surveys of employees and managers would have been more consistent if managers had been better at informing and communicating, especially during processes of change,” says Birgit Sørnes, an organizational psychologist at Stamina Census, who conducted the survey.

"Engagement is created by building trust, which in turn creates loyalty. Managers need to be more aware of this,” says Sørnes.

"Effective management requires transparent, clear and frequent communication, clearly stated goals and clear expectations."

It is crucial for leaders to present both challenges and opportunities when implementing major changes, says Sørnes.

Managers underestimate employees’ need for information and communication. This is important for creating understanding and insight into the company's vision and strategy.

Managers should clarify the social contribution the business provides.

“As we know, people aren’t mind readers,” says Sørnes.

Leaders should ensure that each person understands how their position fits into the whole picture, and how each employee contributes to a common goal.

“This makes their work meaningful,” Sørnes says.

Conveying reasons for change

Information becomes especially important when company managers need to involve employees in major processes of change.

Sørnes believes that leaders should have the ability to identify and communicate the reasons for why change is required.

For employees, it can be difficult to understand why a company should change something that seems to be safe and established as is.

Face-to-face communication is often best, especially for important decisions or changes are being made.

Media industry demands a lot from leaders

Sørnes highlights the media and telecommunications industries as ones where the need for change has been significant and demanded a lot from managers.

"Managers have needed to be able to help their employees understand the need to adapt to new markets and radical changes, in some cases," she says.

It is crucial for employees to receive good reasons for the changes. And, she emphasizes, for the manager to go over both the challenges and opportunities involved.

Keeping everyone solidly grounded also requires repetition and updates.

“A lot of managers are missing the boat in this department,” she says.

About the study

  • Survey participants held at least a .50 FTE position.
  • The responses they provided applied to their immediate supervisor. Thus, the responses in some cases apply to middle managers in the larger companies.
  • The survey was carried out in a number of industries. The number of people responding from each industry varied, so it is difficult to draw conclusions about industry differences.


Stamina Helse, Norsk Jobbehelserapport 2019 (Norwegian Job Behaviour Report 2019).


Read the Norwegian version of this article at

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