A recent survey showed that 70% of people who are currently engaged to be married, actually got engaged on Valentine's day. And whilst as a manager you are certainly NOT expected to propose to your employees (!), having a focus on their engagement is crucial. How do they feel about working for your organisation? What about their relationship with you? How motivated are they to do their job right now, and has this changed due to the ongoing lockdown?
5 top tips for engaging employees...
1) Where is their head at?
Before you leap into an engagement programme, you need to find out how your staff are feeling, and more crucially, why. If you have a member of staff who is feeling a bit 'off' due to the pressures of home-schooling whilst working, that is a different scenario to if they just don't enjoy their role. How you can find out this information will vary but common approaches include employee engagement surveys, talking one to one or group team discussions. Even if you have never used 'formal' approaches like these before, if you're managing a remote team right now, then you're not getting your usual 'water cooler' moments so you need to be more proactive in finding out how everyone is feeling.
2) Are you listening?
It is important to remember that if you're going to ask the question, you need to be prepared to really hear the answer. Showing you are proactively listening, using open body language and good eye contact will make the person feel like they are valued and that what they have to say is important. Checking your understanding and summarising back to that person are also techniques used by coaches, and for good reason. This will help build a bond of trust and create the psychological safety for them to open up. This is particularly important as you'll get a deeper level of understanding; often the 'presenting issue' is masking something deeper. For example, someone seemingly unengaged, may in actual fact be super keen but lacking the skills or knowledge they need to do the job at hand and may not want to admit that out loud. And when it comes to your turn to speak, a key factor in engagement is making sure that your message is clear, heard and understood. Nothing breaks engagement like an unclear message. And that is crucial whether you're engaging employees with a one off activity or a longer period of work.
3) Delegation not dumping
Often employees feel de-motivated when they do not have sufficient goals. These need to be stretching but achievable. If you go one way or the other, they may feel over-stretched and stressed or bored and not engaged. Again, initial discussions with them will help you get a clearer picture on this and then you can design a way forward. Many managers are uncomfortable about delegating work, especially at the moment, as it often feels like they are 'dumping' things on someone else. This is often not the case and working alongside the employee to find a solution (another good engagement tactic), you will soon see that delegating work will help with engagement levels as they feel valued and trusted, whilst developing their skills.
It is important not to assume you know what motivates an employee, again you need to get that feedback from them. If I think back to one of the managerial positions I have held, I had amongst my team two polar opposites. One member of staff lived for praise. In her eyes, a job wasn't worth doing unless she was going to get praised for it and ideally, the louder and more public that praise, the better. Meanwhile, another member of my team would have hated every second of that. In fact, to even given her a compliment on her work in a private one to one had a negative reaction and instead, what I found was to 'praise' her and motivate her, was not to mention it at all but in effect reward her for a job well done by giving her similar actions and responsibilities. Nothing was said, but she knew I was trusting her with each thing as she had proved she could do it and that really motivated her.
5) Social Connections
The past year has been a stark contrast to 'the norm' for many, and people are really suffering with lockdown 3. As humans, we are social beings and are craving interaction with others. We also need to know how those achievable but stretching goals our manager has set us, fit into the bigger picture. We are just one piece of a jigsaw puzzle and when we can't see the other pieces right now, we can feel very separate and disengaged. As well as regular formal one to ones and meetings, it is really important to take time to set up these social moments with your team. Zoom, MS Teams and Google hangouts will never be quite like hanging out over coffee or a beer but creating social opportunities, from mid morning coffee breaks to virtual drinks on a Friday evening, will all help your team connect. There are also lots of other suggestions online about virtual quizzes and team games, as well as virtual physical challenges you can take part in for charity or just for fun. It is another way to see who is engaging, encourage healthy pauses/breaks in the work (another important engagement factor) and engage everyone in the team spirit. And it's also pretty good fun too!