Employee engagement has become a hot topic in management and leadership circles, and for good reason: Up to 85 percent of employees worldwide are disengaged at work. 

When people are disengaged with their work, they use company time and resources without contributing their best to the organization, says Nikos Andriotis at eFrontLearing. Further, their employers risk losing that employee, resulting in incurring the costs associated with recruiting and training someone new to step into that role.

Engagement is an important concept because it describes an employee’s emotional connection to their job. That connection, in turn, affects the effort they expend from day to day, says Brent Gleeson, founder of TakingPoint Leadership. 

Engaged employees embrace their organization’s values, understand how their daily tasks affect the team’s goals, and work for the organization’s common good based on its values and objectives.

Managers have significant power to boost employee engagement and reap its rewards. Applying a few core strategies can help make your team more engaged. 

Help Staff Connect Their Work to the Bigger Picture

Strong employee engagement starts with a vision. While managers typically see the big picture, sharing that vision with staff is a choice. When made, that choice can boost engagement in significant ways, specifically by helping staff understand how their work fits into company goals.

To help employees see how their job supports the entire organization, spend time discussing with staff how their job description ties to the business’s overall goals. Dasimaka recommends using both employee onboarding and performance evaluations to tie each staff member’s job to the organization’s big picture. 

Don’t be afraid to get specific here: If your staff members don’t hear exactly what needs to be done and why, they won’t have the clear roadmap they need to fully engage with the team and organization. “You can and should train your personnel on the absolute basics rather than assuming they’ll just figure it out,” says Sandi Lin, CEO and cofounder of SkillJar. 

This approach to training and onboarding provides an opportunity for managers: When team members want to learn and grow, managers will have already laid the groundwork for that growth. The employees will respond in kind — i.e. they will be far more engaged — and thereby strengthen the whole team further.

 

Build One-on-One Relationships With Team Members

The relationship between a manager and each staff member has a profound effect on that staff member’s engagement — or lack thereof. When managers regularly check in with staff members individually, staff are more likely to believe they’re fairly paid, more likely to promote their employer as a great place to work and less likely to leave their jobs, says Suhail Al-Masri, vice president of sales at Bayt.com.

“In short, employees give more of themselves — that all-important discretionary effort — if they feel their manager or employer is invested in them as people,” says Tanvir Haque, partner at Freshstone Consulting. For managers, this means not only touching base with each staff member about work, but also making an effort to learn about each staff member’s personal life and the factors that drive them to succeed. 

When building relationships with your team, it is essential to listen to each team member as much (or more than) you talk. Asking staff “What matters to you?” can help managers and staff members collaboratively identify challenges, connect people’s work to their passions and engage them in growth, says Kris McCrea Scrutchfield, founder of McCrea Coaching. 

Managers who talk to employees one on one in order to understand their goals and desires help align the employee’s work with the team’s needs and the organization’s objectives. “They will be able to see how the work they are doing will help get them to their goals” while also helping the team and company reach their goals, Scrutchfield says. 

Pay Attention to Scheduling Needs

Sensitivity to employees’ scheduling needs can affect engagement in several ways. For example, a 2010 study by Iona College professor Dr. Nicholas J. Beutell, published in Career Development International, found links between workplace scheduling and employees’ perception of conflicts between work and family. 

All employees want to feel that their personal needs matter when it comes to their work schedules. Their work may be a very important part of their life, but it isn’t their entire life. Employees often have to work around a school schedule, childcare, doctor visits and perhaps even a second job. In addition, employees often have to perform different types of tasks a work and in different areas or even locations. Feeling like their preferences are being taken into account regarding when they work and what they work on, can go a long way toward getting their best work, building loyalty that pays off if you need to call them in on short notice, and reducing turnover. 

Having a system that takes into account employee preferences is an important step to giving employees sought a sense of control over their schedules, satisfaction with scheduling and the ability to talk to managers about scheduling. This research all speaks to the key challenges hourly staff face: managers who are dismissive of scheduling preferences, schedules that come out too late to adequately prepare for and variable working hours. This constant variation makes it hard for employees to plan their lives financially, socially and otherwise. 

This is how the issue of engagement comes full-circle. Case in point: A 2014 study published in the International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health found that the type of work schedules given to nurses in a residential elder care facility had a strong impact on the sustainability of the nurses’ employment.

Understanding the types of schedules that work best both for each staff member and for your organization’s demands can help reduce workers’ frustration with scheduling, as well as mitigate the negative health impacts of highly irregular shifts. This insight can also improve sales for some businesses by stabilizing shift scheduling, Valerie Bolden-Barrett writes at the Zenefits blog.

“When workers do not know what their schedule will be, they cannot plan out their time to accommodate school attendance, second-job holding or family obligations,” says Alix Gould-Werth, senior policy analyst of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. Frustration, home or school worries, lack of sleep, and similar factors all encroach on an employee’s mental and emotional energy, diverting that energy from work when schedules are not optimized.

Managers who spend time talking to staff members gain the ability to gather feedback on which scheduling structures work well for their teams, giving them the power to improve scheduling so that it provides the best possible support for team engagement.

Never Let Good Work Go Unnoticed

Recognizing employees’ successes has a profound impact on engagement and performance. In a study of 250 companies and their engagement strategies, Ben Eubanks of RiseSmart found that high-performing companies were 37 percent more likely to provide regular recognition of good work. 

Eubanks recommends giving positive feedback within earshot of an employee’s peers. “When other team members hear that praise, they know that their leader actually cares about that piece of the puzzle, that process, and that practice,” says Eubanks. Publicly given praise helps change the behavior not only of the recognized employee but of those around them as well. 

Recognizing employees for their good work also helps build trust, cultivate relationships and increase enthusiasm and motivation, says Rasool Somji at VirtualSpeech. 

Here, a sense of authenticity is essential. “It’s easier to be genuine if you see things from your employees’ perspectives,” says Somji. A clear understanding of what each staff member struggles with or does well can help managers give more personalized praise and recognition in the moment. Because the recognition is linked to the individual as well as their work, it fosters a stronger sense of belonging. 

Engagement has a trickle-down effect. When managers engage with their team members, the team develops a sense of coherence and well-being that boosts each member’s own engagement. One-on-one communication that illuminates the big picture, seeks to understand scheduling needs and rewards strong performance can offer managers a low-cost, high-impact way to boost engagement. 

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