If you’re a people manager, here’s a quick question: how many employees report directly to you?
That’s your span of control.
Now here’s a not-so-quick question: how many direct reports should a manager have? That’s not as easy to answer.
We wanted to answer that question through the lens of what we know best—employee engagement—so we analyzed the engagement levels of over 20,000 managers across 169 organizations. Keep reading to find out what we discovered.
Below is a graph showing manager engagement by number of direct reports (ranging from 1 to 14). Because smaller companies often have higher engagement levels than larger companies, the results were also broken out by organizational size.
We can see what’s called a curvilinear trend. Manager engagement is lowest with 1-2 direct reports, tends to increase bit by bit, peaks at 8-9 direct reports, then decreases.
This trend suggests there’s a sweet spot for span of control: in both smaller and larger organizations, manager engagement peaks with 8-9 direct reports.
You can see the differences in engagement levels are not large. But we do want to call attention to the fact that there are two clear trends:
Our results—of manager engagement peaking with 8-9 direct reports—align with those studies. In other words, the answer to “how many direct reports should a manager have?” seems to be 8-10 employees.
But why might manager engagement be impacted by span of control? Several hypotheses could explain these results:
Having fewer direct reports may not allow managers to create a team spirit or a sense of team self-reliance. Yet having too many direct reports could create sub-cultures or cliques within the team that could lead to more conflict or personality management. Both situations of lower team cohesion could result in lower manager engagement.
Keeping track of the productivity and progression of a large team, let alone developing healthy working relationships with each team member, can sound overwhelming. However, we have just the resource to help you tackle those challenges. Check out our free e-book, The Manager Jackpot: Simple HR Solutions for Building Better Bosses