How Well Do Workers Know Their Top Leaders? Many Don’t Have a Clue

Some people tell me that I get obsessed about certain subjects — like employee engagement, for example.

If I’m a bit obsessed, it’s because of how so many American companies have approached it: putting a big focus on engagement as a key metric around 2007-2008, then pretty near dropping any and all concern about it during the recession and its aftermath — and now, starting to focus on it again.

With so much shameless corporate yo-yoing going on, how can you not be a little obsessed over their on again, off again focus on such an important issue?

So, taking all of that into account, pardon me if I see signs of employee disengagement everywhere — even in places where no one else does.

A tell-tale sign of disengagement?

Take the latest CareerBuilder survey (and there is a direct link to it here), for instance, because the top-line findings tell you all you need to know about the state of employee engagement in America today. CareerBuilder found that:

  • Some 40 percent of employees say they have never met their company’s CEO;
  • One in five (21 percent) don’t even know what the chief executive looks like;
  • More than two-thirds (68 percent) of workers don’t know how much their company generates in revenue each year.

OK, I know what you’re thinking. Yes, some companies (say, General Electric) are so large that there are a lot of people who work there who have never met CEO Jeff Immelt, and probably don’t know what he looks like either. What does that say about engagement?

Yes, you would be right about that, but I doubt that CareerBuilder (and Harris Interactive, who did the actual survey work) only talked to people from Fortune 500 companies in the 7,780 employed full-time, not self-employed, non-government, workers they talked to.

No, this is more like the clueless CEOs you see on shows like Undercover Boss —  people who are so totally removed from the rank-and-file employees in their organization that they are terribly shocked and surprised when they actually find out how hard their jobs are down on the front lines or in the trenches (see If a Boss Has to Go Undercover, They Aren’t Much of a Boss at All).

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Balancing leadership from the C-Suite

What this CareerBuilder survey actually says to me is twofold:

  1. Too many workers are disengaged to the point that they don’t know who is actually leading the company; and,
  2. Way too many CEOs are removed from the day-to-day operations to the point that they not only don’t interact with average employees, but they probably don’t care if they do — or they would be out there doing it

Rosemary Haefner, the vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, hit this square on the head when she said this about the survey:

Leadership from the C-suite can be a difficult balance. The CEO and, in some cases, other senior leaders are the face of the company both internally and externally. Meaning, they need to find a level of accessibility that allows them to connect with employees, while on the other hand, dedicate the necessary time for building relationships with outside stakeholders.Employees realize their top leaders can’t know everyone on a first name basis, but they do expect their leaders to be a public symbol that embodies the organization’s values.”

She’s right, of course. No one expects the CEO to know everyone in the company, or the nitty-gritty of company revenues, but they do expect them to be visible and engaged with the organization’s workforce in a meaningful way. And although I don’t suggest going over the cliff with the results of this survey, it does suggest — again — that  there is a level of disengagement going on in many companies that isn’t good for anyone.

You may see it differently, but to me, this survey is just another sign of what’s wrong with our fractured, disengaged, post-recession work climate. And, it’s something that organizations need to focus on fixing instead of just talking about,

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


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