Why employee engagement matters – and how to get it right

There’s little doubt that businesses benefit from having engaged employees. The landmark piece of research in this field, the MacLeod Report, provided conclusive evidence that staff who enjoy their work and feel connected with their company are more loyal, productive and committed to their jobs.

But eight years on – and several more convincing research studies later – businesses still seem to be struggling with the concept, with surveys showing that levels of disengagement across industry are still high.

It’s a problem that companies cannot afford to ignore. The shock waves created by Brexit, a volatile economic climate and political upheavals around the globe have combined to create massive uncertainty in the workplace. If companies want to keep hold of talented employees, they need to make sure people feel valued, understand where the business is going and can see they have a part in its future.

Employees who are engaged with their company are much more likely to co-operate with the continuous change that is now an inevitable part of business life – even if they are being asked to work in new ways they don’t particularly like or agree with. They are more likely to go the extra mile when necessary, rather than simply coasting through the day doing as little as they can get away with, working ineffectively or lacking the will to try to do a good job Key to creating this environment are line managers, who need to be right at the centre of any corporate engagement initiative.

If line managers don’t communicate the company’s vision and strategic direction, employees will be confused about where the focus their efforts.

If employees feel their line manager isn’t interested in hearing what they have to say, they will become demotivated and will fail to tell managers the things they really need to hear.

If line manager behaviour doesn’t reflect the espoused company values, trust will take a nose-dive. Witness the many examples of companies who say they value innovation, only to hang people out to dry if an idea fails.

So if you are a line manager who wants to improve engagement in your team, what are the key questions you should be asking yourself?:

1. How engaged are my employees right now?

It’s usually pretty easy to tell when people have become disengaged. Deadlines slip, the quality of work goes down and the atmosphere is flat, with no sense of excitement or challenge. In worse scenarios, employees just resist all changes and argue therefore spreading bad vibes across the organisation. If you are starting to see this in your team, you need to find out why. Are people demotivated because they don’t have the tools, resources or training they need to do a proper job? Do staff receive recognition for their successes, or are they feeling that however hard they try, no-one really notices? Is the office environment (cramped, airless and with equipment that keeps breaking) getting people down? A staff survey can help to uncover some of the issues that are making employees feel lack-lustre. But there’s no substitute for simply talking to people. Ask your team what’s getting in the way – and most importantly, be prepared to act on the feedback they give you.

2. Do I really know what motivates my people?

Be careful of making assumptions about what motivates people. Motivation isn’t one-size-fits-all and what makes one employee’s eyes light up may have quite the opposite effect on another. There are some people who are motivated by money, although not nearly as many as you might think. Others may be fired up by challenging, stretching work or the opportunity to constantly learn new things. For some, flexible working arrangements may be the key. Get to know your people individually so you can really understand what makes them tick. And once you know what people like doing, find as many opportunities as you can for them to do more of it. Developing this kind of rapport does take time and effort, but the investment will pay dividends longer term and will release the discretionary effort you are looking for.

3. What can I do to improve trust in my team?

Giving employees a voice – and genuinely listening to what they have to say – is one of the best moves you can make if you want to improve levels of trust in your team. The rise of social media has given people unprecedented opportunities to share their views and opinions in their personal life, and they expect to be able to do the same at work too. Actively seeking input from your team and involving them in the decision-making process will not only make people feel you respect their contribution, it will have real bottom line benefits too. People are much more likely to actively buy into new initiatives or to support change if they feel they have been part of the process. And of course it is people on the front line who are in the best position to know what the customer wants or how things could be done better so make sure you involve them too.

In a nutshell, whilst employee engagement can be daunting when you don’t know where to start, with the above pointers it isn’t hard to make a start. So why not start today? If you’d like a list of top tips to make it even easier, please contact me.

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