Encouraging Staff Engagement

The latest word for it is “presenteeism”, but in plain English, the term is checking out mentally from work – even while you’re physically present.

It represents a real threat to productivity.

To make sure employees aren’t simply going through the motions, organizations must foster staff engagement. This means nurturing the kind of environment that promotes bringing both one’s head and heart to work.

It takes a concerted effort to create this kind of atmosphere, but it is worth it in the form of greater staff retention, productivity and profitability. Drawing from The Gallup Organization’s research on job satisfaction and employee engagement, there are four ways employers can boost staff engagement:

1. Increase Staff Influence

If staff feel they lack of influence at work, they’ll disengage quickly. When people feel they don’t matter, don’t know what is expected of them or are unclear on what the priorities are, they are less likely to actively participate on the job. Instead of initiating and making an effort, staff who feel impotent coast, clock watch and do the bare minimum, engaging in a kind of “work-to-rule” pattern. Instead of viewing this type of worker as lazy, managers should assess the level of influence he has over his work. When managers don’t ask staff their opinion about their work, their future or the aspects of work they enjoy, the staff aren’t inclined to give it their all. Increasing engagement can be as simple as finding out what an employee aspires to and helping him get there. It may be a financial goal such as buying a car or house, traveling the world, returning to school or obtaining a promotion in the organization. Tapping employee dreams and helping staff realize them is important.

If staff have an idea for improving things, listen and see if it can be implemented. The worst thing a boss can do is ask for suggestions then do nothing with them. Not every idea can be adopted, but people like to know the notion was considered. When staff don’t understand exactly what the boss wants of them, they don’t know what to aspire to or what goals to pursue. This can harm staff interest in the work.

2. Provide The Right Resources

Nothing frustrates or kills initiative like lacking the right equipment, resources, people or materials to complete the task properly. Failure to provide the right materials to do the job also communicates it lacks importance. This, in turn, tells the employees that what they are doing doesn’t matter in the scheme of things at the company. Asking a staff person to care about the quality of her work when the business doesn’t seem to is a tall order for even the most conscientious employee.

Ensure that staff have what they need to get the job done well. Fostering employee pride in the work, increases the efficiency with which they execute tasks and their enjoyment in a quality end product.

3. Promote Staff Contribution

Employers will all say they value staff contributions, but how do organizations ensure employees consistently make a positive contribution? One method is to keep developing your people. When employees can point to someone in the organization who took a personal interest in their development, they are more likely to stay engaged on the job. That personal touch doesn’t come from a yearly meeting where the boss encourages staff to take a course, for instance. It means actively talking to staff about what they want to learn, what interests them and which aspects of the job they’d like more information about. Providing staff with an understanding of their progress, including specific feedback about what they are doing right, helps encourage an ongoing contribution. Appreciating staff effort, thanking them and recognizing their efforts adds to staff willingness to contribute their talents in a concerted way.

Another method is to find ways to help staff feel competent every day. That builds esteem and helps staff feel their work is meaningful, rewarding and interesting. Not every aspect of every job offers staff a chance to do what lies within their area of competency but ensuring that many of the daily tasks afford a sense of achievement is important. Too often, people feel underutilized or under challenged in their roles. They may be bored, feel undermined or experience a lack of achievement, all indicators of a disengaged staff group.

It is inspiring to work with others who are committed to producing quality work, doing their best and achieving at high levels. When the bar is raised by those around us, we will rise to the challenge. Fostering an atmosphere through development, learning, feedback and providing the means to do the job well, can help staff maintain an interest in high performance.

Finally, a contribution worth making is usually linked to the purpose of the company. If staff know that their work is furthering the company mission they’ll remain engaged because they’ll feel their work matters in the larger scheme of things. Communicating a company’s strategy to staff is key if employees are to link their work to its purpose.

4. Caring About Staff

Feeling valued and being given attention is important to staff but when this is personalized, engagement is heightened. If a supervisor or colleague cares about a worker as an individual with his or her own story, that staff person will find maintaining an interest, giving their heart to the job, and contributing to the company easy. If employees are treated as numbers or positions filled, they will respond accordingly. When someone cares, engagement increases. Engagement also increases if staff have a good friend at work. Friendships at work are worthwhile and important to promote and foster. Staff are more engaged if they experience a sense of belonging and camaraderie on the job.

Increasing staff engagement can be as simple as choosing one of these four ways to improve engagement and implementing it. Hesitating to work on your staff engagement will prompt increased withdrawal, absenteeism and lower productivity. Without adequate engagement, you’ll lose good will, effort and interest in the job. If you think that person in the cubicle nearby is mentally far away, start working on increasing engagement today.

Dr. Jennifer Newman and Dr. Darryl Grigg are registered psychologists and directors of Newman & Grigg Psychological and Consulting Services Ltd., a Vancouver-based corporate training and development partnership. They can be contacted at sunmail@newmangrigg.com

Identifying information in cases cited has been changed to protect confidentiality.

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