I am going to start with a bold assertion, employee engagement is an illusion. No really, let me explain. Leaders create the environment where employees work and it is what the leaders do and say every day that impacts how engaged an employee feels and behaves. Therefore, employee engagement is nothing more than a side effect of Leader Engagement.
So, what do engaged leaders do to increase employee engagement?
1. Discover what frustrates employees and fix as much as they can.
Daily frustrations wear people out. Especially when the people who have the most control over reducing frustrations are the leaders, and they aren’t doing anything to fix them. If the computer system is always shutting down, meetings are mostly wasted time, and it takes a monumental effort to order a pack of pens, it’s hard to get excited about work. Employees aren’t likely to bring these problems up unless their boss has specifically asked for them, reinforced sharing them, and fixed what they can. Trying to increase employee engagement without putting effort into reducing major frustrations is an impossible feat.
2. Give employees control over their work and don’t micromanage.
No one likes having someone look over their shoulder all day or having to ask permission to do every little thing. Lack of control over work that you feel competent to complete is a serious drain on engagement and is directly linked to stress. Engaged leaders look for opportunities for employees to have input and flexibility in how the work gets done.
3. Understand and use positive reinforcement.
Positive reinforcement is a big source of happiness for people and in most workplaces, there isn’t nearly enough. Research says that students do better in school, work teams perform at a higher level, and marriages are happier when people get about 4 or more positives for every negative. Sending a bulk, generic “good job” email doesn’t count. The reinforcers should be personal and specific.
4. Focus on developing relationships.
Think about someone you highly respect. If that person praised you for a job well done, how would you feel? If that same person suggested something you could improve, would you want to improve it? Now think about someone you really dislike and ask yourself those same questions. The answers change, don’t they? The successes are even more invigorating and the tough times are easier to endure when we have robust relationships with our colleagues at work. We want to do good work for and with people we care about. Relationships must be developed and nurtured.
If leaders engage in the four behaviors described above, employee engagement will be inevitable.