It’s worrying that, according to Gallup, less than one fifth of British employees are fully engaged at work. This is a massive waste for individuals themselves, their team and their organisations.
Disengagement means that team members don’t operate at the level of efficiency they are capable of and therefore only perform a limited amount of work. On top of that, disengagement is contagious and it often drives engaged employees away, leaving employers with those who aren’t. Getting your staff on side can seriously boost a business's performance, so improving engagement should be a key focus for any manager.
1. The key to engagement is involvement
By involving your team members, rather than just telling them, you invite them into a conversation that can engage interest and ownership. The greatest buy-in happens when people have been involved in a solution rather than just being told what to do. You are showing that they are important by including them, and that’s hard not to connect with.
2. Be genuine
Whatever you do, don’t make employee engagement a tick box exercise. Engagement is an emotional connection so it cannot be ignited through action alone. It’s how you behave whilst taking action that makes a difference. So if you are serious about this you need to be genuinely interested, conscientious and caring. Not only does it keep you engaged, it is infectious and makes staying disengaged close to impossible.
3. Clarify expectations
Make sure everyone knows and shares the team’s common purpose. This may sound basic, but you’d be amazed at how many teams don’t have this. Engagement starts with a clear understanding of what’s expected, roles and responsibilities, the overall purpose and long-term goals. Without that it’s impossible to know if you are doing a good job, as you have nothing to measure against. Involve your team in discussions around how to fulfil the purpose, and how to work together to make it happen.
A team we recently encountered had clear financial goals, but no clear understanding of how to achieve them. The results varied between team members so the leader decided to clarify what else was expected of them. They had a discussion on how to work to achieve the goals, and shared successful strategies with each other.
Amongst other things, this highlighted the need for regular, structured communication with key stakeholders to retain their ongoing support. It became clear to them all that they hadn’t previously understood all the factors involved in being fully successful (and therefore engaged) at their job.
4. Focus on ongoing development
Once everyone knows what is expected, let them know how they are doing. Have regular follow-up and development discussions, and make them truly two-way. Don’t wait until the yearly appraisal. Share helpful feedback, including what you’ve seen them do and the impact this has had on the team or others around them, and therefore their results.
Don’t feel like you have to have all the answers to someone’s development; be creative about it - development doesn’t have to be a promotion, it could just be a new challenge. Ongoing development creates a sense of progression, which engages.
5. Keep things interesting
Have a brainstorming session on how to invigorate the job, to break the boredom of monotony, stagnation and disengagement. This could and should include questioning processes that don’t add value, responsibility overlaps, handovers and particularly time-consuming tasks. Use these questions to help drive innovation forward:
- What could we change to make the job more interesting/fun?
- Are we doing things that are repetitive, boring and bring very little value? If so, could they be stopped/changed/improved?
- If possible, what could we stop doing? What could we start doing? What should we continue doing?
- Could any tasks be swapped between team members?
Encouraging staff to think about how their job could be done differently helps them feel in control - and therefore boosts engagement.
Keeping staff engaged is really important, but it doesnt need to be difficult. Just keep them involved, make it clear what you want from them and above all be genuine - it's much easier to engage with a human than a robot.
Mandy Flint and Elisabet Vinberg Hearn are the authors of Leading Teams – 10 Challenges: 10 Solutions