Engaged employees give discretionary effort and are more productive, boosting organisational performance as a result. They enjoy their work more and make their manager's job easier too. And the great thing is – employees want to be engaged and feel good about themselves and their jobs when they are.
This is great news for business leaders wondering how to achieve more with (apparently) less – you have lots of untapped, valuable resource at your fingertips. All you have to do is access it.
The trick is to avoid 'over-engineering' how you go about employee engagement i.e. focussing primarily on employment packages and special perks. It's almost 50 years since Herzberg pointed out that a nice office, a pay rise and a company car aren't effective. And, more recently, this Gallup poll shows that special perks such as "a free lunch, a siesta in the nap room, or a massage at work" don't engage employees either.
The primary factors that build an engaged workforce are those interactions that take place every day between the leader and the people they lead. Because these actions are so simple most businesses and individual leaders overlook them. Below are five primary actions that – provided you do them regularly, will significantly increase your employees' engagement over the next three to six months.
1. Treat your employees as adults
Senior leaders often talk about individuals in their organisation as if they are slightly irritating children who have to be cajoled, humoured and scolded to keep them on track. They aren't – they are grown-ups who want you to share information with them, ask for their opinions and respect them.
2. Make time for your team
Set aside time at least once a month to meet with each direct report and discuss what matters to them. This is one of the most valuable investments any leader can make. Avoid the common mistakes of doing this sporadically or treating the conversation as a progress update for you rather than an opportunity to answer your direct reports' questions and listen to them.
3. Catch people doing things right
One of those jokey statements that people wryly say is: "I must be doing things right because I haven't been told I'm not". But this statement is no joke. Positive feedback builds energy and commitment; its absence drains it. Make sure you share your comments across the team – there is no place for favouritism if you want to build an engaged team, rather than a few engaged individuals.
4. Give regular feedback about what people can do better too
As well as the positive stuff, people want concise, considered feedback about how they can do better. Feedback – whether good or not so good – must not be saved for quarterly or annual reviews. It must be a natural part of your everyday interaction with the people you lead.
5. Share relevant business problems or opportunities, and ask for ideas on how to fix the problem or make the most of the opportunity
Too often, leaders don't ask for ideas at all or, when they do, they ask for these in the abstract. If you don't ask for ideas, people feel undervalued and many great ideas are never aired. If you ask for ideas in the abstract, employees too often come up with unmanageable or unrealistic ones that have to be rejected and that doesn't help anyone to feel good.
Sharing a business problem or opportunity and asking for ideas that directly relate to that give people a context and make it easier for them to think of something meaningful. If there are constraints around budgets, timescales and so on, share those too. That way, people will decide for themselves what is feasible or otherwise.
Implement all five of these steps and you will find that employee engagement in your organisation will rocket. Of course some of them take time, but the rewards that you will realise will make that investment well worthwhile. And others require minimal extra effort – it's simply about adopting new habits in how you interact with your people.
How do you engage your employees? What works well and what have you tried that didn't prove worthwhile? Leave us a comment below!
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