3 Major Management Behaviors That Will Kick-Start Employee Engagement

by Dora Wang on Jun 20, 2015 8:00:00 AM

3 Major Management Behaviors That Will Kick-Start Employee EngagementSometimes in the workplace, the “it’s not you, it’s me,” adage is completely true for managers. Managers can directly impact levels of employee engagement by their attitudes and behaviors. So, most often when employees are disengaged, morale in the workplace is low, and productivity levels are stagnant at best. It has nothing to do with the caliber of employees in the workforce — it has to do with the one employee sitting in the manager seat.

Engagement in the workplace isn’t just about getting the job done; it’s about being enthusiastic and committed not only to your specific job role but to your company as a whole. Unfortunately, truly engaged employees are not the norm.

According to a study by Gallup:

  • A smidge more than half, or 50.3%, of U.S. employees report being “not engaged” at work

  • Worse, 16.8% of U.S. employees are “actively disengaged”

  • Managers account for as much as 70% of variance in engagement scores

  • Among 7,272 U.S. adults studied, half had left a job to get away from their manager to “improve overall life” at some point in their career

Clearly, managers have a lot to do with employee engagement rates. And that’s important because low engagement leads to low productivity, drops in employee retention, low customer satisfaction, stilted growth — essentially, it seriously mucks up your bottom line.

Luckily, the study from Gallup did call out three specific management behaviors that can boost employee engagement:

1.   Reliable and meaningful communication

2.   Performance management beyond annual reviews

3.   Focusing on employee strengths instead of weaknesses

It’s important to go through each, one by one, to delve into just how managers can implement these behaviors in this own company or team.

Reliable and Meaningful Communication Starts With Open Feedback

So your company claims to have an “open-door policy,” huh? More often than not, this policy is not enough to encourage meaningful communication with staff members. And if you’re being honest with yourself as a manager, you probably already know this.

In a study by the Harvard Business Review:

  • 42% of employees report periodically speaking up but withholding information when they feel they have nothing to gain — or something to lose — by sharing what’s on their minds.

  • More than 25% say they withhold feedback on routine problems and opportunities for improvement to avoid wasting their time

  • About 20% say a fear of consequences has led them to withhold suggestions for addressing ordinary problems and making improvements

There is more than one reason why employees don’t speak up even in companies with open-door policies — thinking that a manager won’t do anything about your concerns, worrying about adding another task to your busy day, and a fear of repercussions, whether the threat is real or imagined.

An anonymous feedback system could alleviate most, if not all, of them and be the kick start to reliable, meaningful communication.

In most companies, managers can’t have face-to-face meetings with their staff every single day to address routine issues. And stats show that even these meetings may not help employees raise issues anyhow. An anonymous feedback system in the vein of short surveys or something similar can supplement in-person meetings and help managers stay on the pulse of what’s happening in their company — from small, daily issues to employee morale rates to glaring problems the manager can’t see for himself.

The system allows managers to address issues and follow up with staff in a timely manner, without anyone from the team feeling like they made themselves vulnerable.

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Performance Management Beyond Annual Reviews Just Makes Common Sense

So much can happen in a year. Imagine having to bring up problematic behavior with your spouse or child from January all the way in November. It just doesn’t make common sense for impacting a change in behavior. So why are many companies only reviewing employees once every 12 months?

According to The Wall Street Journal:

  • 99% of companies use yearly or twice-yearly performance reviews

  • About 60% of HR executives grade their performance appraisal systems a C or below

  • Two-thirds of performance reviews had zero or negative effects on employee performance post-feedback

Nearly 100% of companies are participating in an employee review process that is glaringly broken. Let’s reiterate the third bullet point: The clear majority of annual performance reviews not only have no impact on performance; they had negative impact. We desperately need another way.

Innovative companies are dropping the annual performance review for these reasons and others. In its place, they’re implementing smaller reviews more often.

Think about the management behavior above of reliable, meaningful communication. It must be implemented in the employee review stage as well. A feedback-rich culture is far more likely to address issues and award good behavior and performance in a meaningful way. In this manner, an employee isn’t blindsided by a manager’s issue with their performance several months after the fact, which can breed resentment and, frankly, not help change that behavior.

Focusing on Strengths Over Weaknesses Because Every Employee Is Different

Learning from employee performance reviews, every single member of your staff is different and learns and operates in different ways. If, as a manager, you treat your staff as a group of pawns — all the same — you’re doing it wrong. You need to know three things about each member of your staff:

1.   What are that employee’s strengths?

2.   What triggers activate those strengths?

3.   What learning style will help them learn more about using their strengths?

Be careful, though: strengths doesn’t only mean what that employee is good at right this second. It can also mean what that employee has a passion for and has shown a capacity for learning and excelling at. And, to complicate matter further, it’s not always what the employee thinks of as their strength.

To dig out of them what these strengths are, ask this question during one of your frequent employee review sessions: “What’s the best day at work you have had in the past three months?” The answer will illuminate what drives your employee and where you might be able to focus their passion. From there, it’s a matter of matching that employee with the appropriate mentor or training program to forge a path toward enhancing their strengths and, hopefully, your productivity.

The greatest managers treat every employee as an individual. This path — with clear communication, a consistent feedback loop, and a job description tailored toward employee strengths — will boost employee engagement and your bottom line.



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This post was written by Dora Wang

Dora is an employee engagement researcher for TINYpulse and managing editor of TINYinstitute. Having grown up in Texas, she is now firmly settled in Seattle, where she spends her free time reading comic books, wrangling her three cats, and (of course) rooting for the Seahawks.

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