Introduction

One thing organisations truly covet is an engaged workforce.

Often described as the ‘holy grail’, genuinely engaged employees are proud to work for their organisation and feel they are a vital part of the business. They are more productive, boosting performance by going the extra mile and inspiring people around them.

This is great news for business leaders wondering how to achieve more with (apparently) less. There is a wealth of untapped, valuable resource at your fingertips. All you need to know is how to access it. Improving employee engagement is possible for any organisation that is up for the challenge, and is willing to make the necessary investments to create the right kind of leadership behaviour and actions from which employee engagement can flow.

In this post, we outline five primary actions that – provided you repeat them on a regular basis – will significantly increase your employees’ engagement in the short to medium term. Before we get started, let’s take a moment to bust some myths around what employee engagement is, and perhaps more importantly, what it is not!

What employee engagement is not

Many organisations get side-tracked by ‘over-engineering’ how they go about boosting employee engagement. Focusing on transactional rewards such as employment packages and perks won’t create the conditions for employee engagement. It’s almost 50 years since Hertzberg pointed out that a nice office, a pay rise and company car aren’t effective. More recently, Gallup reported that special perks such as “a free lunch, a siesta in the nap room or a massage at work” don’t engage employees either. [1] These things might make employees happy in the short-term, but they have very little impact when it comes to building an engaged workforce.

What employee engagement is

The factors that build a truly engaged workforce are the everyday interactions between a leader and the people they lead. Because these actions are straightforward, many businesses and leaders overlook them

How to increase employee engagement

1.Treat your employees like adults

Some leaders talk about individuals in their organisation as if they are slightly irritating children who must be cajoled, humoured and even scolded to keep them on track. This isn’t engaging. Employees are adults. They will engage far better if they’re treated as such.

At least once a month, set aside time to meet with each of your direct reports. This is one of the most valuable investments of time any leader can make. Use it as an opportunity to talk about the topics your direct report really wants to discuss with you. Don’t make it all about completion of tasks.

2. Make time for your team

In his best-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey advised us to understand before we expect to be understood. [2] In the same way, an effective leader seeks to engage before expecting others to engage with him or her.

3. Catch people doing things right

One of those jokey statements people often say, with a hint of irony is:

“I must be doing things right because I haven’t been told I’m not.”

This statement is no joke. People who say this are not getting the benefit of regular feedback from their manager and have no idea if their performance is good, bad, or somewhere in the middle.

Regular, positive feedback builds energy, motivation and commitment. Its absence does the opposite and drains these good things away.

4. Give feedback about where people can improve

As well as the positive stuff, which is the easy bit, people also want concise, considered feedback about how they can improve. Feedback, whether good or bad, should not be saved up for quarterly or annual reviews. It must be a natural part of your regular conversations and interactions with the people you lead.

5. Listen to understand, not to problem solve

This comes in at number 5, not because it’s the least important, but because it’s something which underpins employee engagement at a deeper level. When you’re busy, it is tempting to half listen to a story, then suggest a solution to a half-understood problem. Leaders are naturally predisposed to do this because so much of their time is spent fixing things. However, it leaves people seriously disengaged and wastes time suggesting and implementing solutions that are unlikely to work. It also encourages people to be increasingly dependent on you.

Summary

If you can implement the suggestions outlined in this post, you will find that employee engagement in your team, and in your organisation will start to improve. The majority require minimal effort and zero cost – ultimately this is about your ability to adopt and maintain new, positive habits in how you interact with your people on a daily basis. Good luck!

[1] Susan Sorenson, Don’t pamper employees, engage them, Gallup. Available at: https://www.gallup.com/workplace/236924/don-pamper-employees-engage.aspx (2nd July 2013).

[2] Steven Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon and Schuster, 1988.

Five ways leaders can increase employee engagement