What can leaders do to improve employee engagement?

Employee engagement is about much more than a suggestion box and an occasional free lunch; it’s leading by example. If you want to help your team succeed, how can you increase staff engagement by changing your own behaviour first?

Jonny Fisher
by Jonny Fisher
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“Employee engagement” can be thrown around as an HR buzzword without ever being meaningfully actioned, particularly when it comes to senior executives taking responsibility for their own people. After all, it’s one thing to express the desire for your team to have favourable working conditions, but when you break down what this really means in practice you start to encounter tradeoffs and limitations that can derail even the best of intentions. Does flexible working sacrifice some degree of productivity? Does constant feedback ultimately inspire or demotivate? Every organisation is different, and in reality there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

If there’s one thing we do know, it’s that no amount of employee satisfaction surveys can ever replace the fundamentals, which have to start within your organisation’s leadership. Here are our top tips for leaders who want to play their part in boosting their team’s engagement:

  • Know your strengths (and your weaknesses)

As a team leader, you have to strike the balance between creating a strategy, monitoring and developing everyone’s skill set, and providing a degree of pastoral care. This is a very broad task, and rarely is anyone a true expert at all three. As an experiment, try keeping a tally of every conversation that you have in a week, breaking down your interactions into these three categories. Are you avoiding talking to your team about their life outside of work? Do you pay attention to what extra tools they might need to succeed? Are you communicating your vision clearly enough? Knowing your weak points is one of the first steps to transforming them into strengths.

  • Demonstrate integrity

Try to be upfront with your team about your own personal development goals. It may not be relevant to their immediate project, but they need to know that you are a person too. Let them know that you’re working towards improving the way you support both them and yourself. The key here is to always lead by example. Want your team to be more open? Start sharing.

  • Engage with feedback

You may already have your own processes for collecting feedback, but the next step is to check that you’re actually engaging with what’s being said. This has two parts: listening and actioning. Always make sure that your response to feedback is more than an acknowledgement; ask questions, get details, prompt them to reflect on their insight and push for thoughts on their ideas for next steps. Then action this change in whatever way is appropriate and report back on the results. Even if it seems like a small thing, never leave it hanging.

  • Emphasise teamwork

If you’re a team leader trying to innovate, it’s up to you to ensure that your people never feel as though they are in competition with one another. Scan through and check that you’re not doing anything to imply that this is the case (i.e. only giving praise to one person for something other people may have contributed to), and openly share a philosophy that strong teams lead to strong individuals, not the other way around. Any extra-curricular activities, from lunches to bonding days, should be in service of strengthening the team as a whole.

  • Fail in public

It never feels good to fail, but well-managed failures are integral to the process of innovation. During your professional life you’re going to take risks, make mistakes and drop the ball once in awhile, and you’re going to need your team to stick with you, so do the same for them. Practice viewing failure as a positive, and your company culture will thank you. Never be afraid to point out, deconstruct or even apologise for your own mistakes, and always ask for feedback moving forward. After all, you’re only human.

Ultimately, the happiest and cohesive teams feel as though they are working with, not for the people that lead them. Although many of these behaviours may seem obvious, set a time for yourself once a month to reflect on whether or not you’re really doing them to the best of your ability. If you do, you’ll have happier, more engaged employees, and might even feel a little more fulfilled yourself!

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