Alumni

Four simple ways to engage employees today

February 27, 2015 by Guest Contributor

By Janine McDonald, M.A.O.L.

According to a recent Gallup report, only 30 percent of the U.S. workforce is engaged in their work, meaning more than half of employees (70 percent to be exact) are not reaching their full potential.

Because we know that productivity and profitability are directly related to employee engagement, this statistic represents a significant problem for the economy and the individual performance of American companies going forward.

The good thing is, employees want to be engaged in their work – they want to be a part of something that is bigger than themselves. They just need to be provided with the opportunity to take their best abilities and blend them with the company’s mission.

Here are some ways you can start engaging employees effectively today, and some helpful advice to keep them engaged:

1. Keep employees in the loop
In order for an employee to be openly engaged, he or she needs to be informed and see the value of their work at the company. Ensure that you are communicating the company’s big picture plans and how each of your staff members’ work will fit into these plans. Employees are more engaged when they understand how their individual work is valuable to the company.

Be clear in your expectations. When work is piling up and disengaged employees start to struggle with the workload and their ability to complete it all within mounting deadlines, take some time to meet with each of them one-on-one. Try to understand their expectations and help them understand yours. Help them prioritize based on their abilities and project timelines. Ensure they are not spinning their wheels and that they don’t feel they’re working alone in a silo.

The job description you give an employee should represent the ground level, or the floor, so to speak. Let them know it’s up to them to take it to the next level – the sky is the limit. Welcome their contribution and ask your employees to tell you how they can add value to the team. It’s also beneficial to involve employees in problem solving. Be specific in what you need from them and when.

Don’t say: “Here’s the problem, I need to you fix it ASAP.”
DO say: “Here’s our problem. Do you have any suggestions on how we can fix it by tomorrow?”

2. Ask employees what engages them
A core management concept is that a manager needs to customize their interaction with each employee. Asking your employees a few simple questions will help you narrow down how to most effectively interact with them daily and under high pressure deadlines.

Ask:
o What motivates you?
o What gets you up in the morning?
o What keeps you committed to a team?

You can’t engage someone without their permission. They have to be open and willing to engage in their work. As mentioned earlier, employees want to be engaged, but a single tactic won’t work for everyone. Take the answers they give to these questions and use them to both the company’s and the employee’s advantage.

3. Step back
Now that you know what motivates your employees and you’ve been clear on your expectations, it’s time to step back and let them dive into their work. Let them apply their own methods of self-sufficiency. Employees with more freedom to be self-directed in their work are generally more engaged. Imagine having the freedom to master your own role as an employee, gain more experience and find purpose in your work. Sounds pretty inspiring, doesn’t it?

As a leader, you can support individual, inherent motivators while managing employees within the scope of their job responsibilities and the company’s mission. The fact that your manager trusts you to get the job done, without micromanagement, speaks volumes to an employee who is capable of working independently and thrives on doing so.

4. Create the culture
It’s important for company leaders to create a culture their employees want to be a part of in order to foster engagement. Tell positive stories about the brand and what it’s like to be an employee there. Begin to implement formal concepts (like pledges and written material that manifest the culture) and informal programs (like events or freeform feedback from coworkers) that communicate and reinforce the culture. Create even the simplest corporate culture by starting and keeping traditions, recognizing and rewarding work and enhancing the physical environment all within the company’s values.

Employees are attracted to a strong culture. Using this to recruit and engage top talent gives companies a competitive advantage. Every corporate culture is different based on a company’s goals and image, but all require a leader who believes in it, talks about it and rewards engaged employees who embrace it.

Keeping employees engaged
If you want employees to stay engaged, they need to see you engaged as well. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Leaders should apply this simple principle specifically to their offices. There is a direct link between leader engagement and employee engagement. If you don’t feel you’re truly engaged, start by asking yourself the questions above to find your own motivators. If you are not engaged, your employees will likely not be motivated.

Give your employees your time. Be accessible to help them find their best engagement tactics and support employees’ career development. Put employees at a level where they can play to their strengths, which may change as they learn more about their work and the company. Engagement may be an ebb and flow for employees, but it needs to be a constant for managers.

Help employees learn how to take their own best abilities and blend them with the company’s mission. Then let them engage in what ways work best for them. Create a culture they want to be a part of. Finally, make sure you stay engaged. If your early engagement tactics aren’t working for you or your employees, don’t give up. Keep trying. You and your company will hit the right stride in time and you’ll be on your way to a competitive workplace of highly engaged employees before you know it.

About the author
Janine McDonald
Janine MacDonald is an instructor with Brandman University’s School of Extended Education, the entrepreneurial division of Brandman University, where she provides leadership development training. For more than 20 years, Janine McDonald has specialized in developing and implementing corporate leadership programs and talent management. As an organizational leadership consultant, Ms. McDonald has helped turn new supervisors, mid-level managers and executives into effective leaders. Ms. McDonald holds a Masters of Arts in organizational leadership from Chapman University and a Bachelor of Arts in economics and communication studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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