How to Increase Employee Engagement

An engaged workforce is more productive and far more likely to feel satisfied with their jobs. This gives you double benefits: first, because employees are working harder, providing more bang for their buck. And second, because employee retention will be much higher, saving you out on the costly and time-consuming process of hiring replacements.

For starters, you need to care about your employees as people, not just workers. Let me illustrate why this is so valuable by recalling an experience I had consulting for a mid-sized company. This place had recently undergone significant layoffs and management brought me in because the workforce was severely disengaged. People would spend an hour or two at a time gossiping or browsing the internet instead of working. Productivity was down and the company was desperate. They had already tried cracking down on the workers and limiting their break times. This strategy wasn’t working – and in fact, it backfired, because now employees felt distrustful of management – who they felt were spying on them. Even people who had legitimate business matters to discuss had grown cautious of popping by someone’s desk to go over a report for fear of being reprimanded. In short, the entire culture of trust had broken down.

I could immediately see where management had gone wrong. By focusing so heavily on the symptoms of disengagement – the excessive chatting and social media – they had neglected to remedy the source of the disengagement. Namely, the layoffs’ emotional toll was still causing ripple effects. Until they acknowledged that as the problem and worked to reassure the workers, engagement couldn’t improve. Occasionally, workforce restructuring needs to happen for the sake of the business, but it should be handled with care. If it’s not, a situation like I described is likely to happen.

So, what do you do if employees are disengaged? Figure out the root cause of the problem and fix that – not the symptoms. Symptoms like chatting or time wasting will go away when the main problem has been resolved. (As a manager, you should still bring these symptoms to your employees’ attention, but if this is out-of-character behavior for them, frame your concerns in a way that acknowledges that. “Sandra, I’ve noticed your numbers are down last month compared to the prior months. Can you tell me why that is?” Notice the impetus is on the employee to take responsibility for the problem, instead of you decreeing it for them. That gives them ownership over it and helps reduce feelings of defensiveness.)

Celebrate the wins and encourage them after setbacks. When things are going well at work, celebrate it with your employees. They’re closing out tons of tasks, signing new clients, or hard at work crunching numbers? Whatever they’re doing well, call it out. You don’t need to throw a party for every small achievement, but you should acknowledge the positive things. A simple email or a verbal “well done” can go a long way toward making your employees feel appreciated. They’ll feel motivated to keep working hard.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, have some perspective when things don’t go the way you’d like. If your employee is having a bad week or fumbled a little on a project, don’t explode on them and continuously harp on the mistakes they made. Instead, sit down with your employee and discuss what went wrong and how they can improve next time. And then – unless you notice them continuing to make the same mistakes – drop it. Micromanaging their every move because of a single mistake isn’t going to help anyone.

For a personalized, in-depth analysis of how to improve engagement at your place of business, contact me here.