When it comes to productivity, employee engagement is vital: only employees who have bought in to your ‘why’ will be giving their all to help achieve your aims.
When engagement and productivity leave something to be desired, it’s tempting to blame the employee: they haven’t understood, they don’t care enough, their motivation is lacking. However, based on our experience working with businesses across many sectors, we know it’s usually down to management’s failure to help them to engage.
Why are my employees unproductive?
If you’re struggling to get your team to produce the volume or level of work you know they’re capable of, you need to examine their motivation – and the biggest factor in that is their engagement.
When you set tasks or targets, you base these on your ‘why’ – the ultimate aim you have in mind for yourself and for the team or the wider business. You can see a clear link between the work being done and the end goal. Where many leaders fall down is in communicating this with the team they need to achieve it.
It’s true that, to some extent, people are self-motivating: the best employees will want the satisfaction of doing their job well. However, if they can’t understand the part they play in the bigger picture or appreciate the ultimate aims of the business, self-motivation will not be enough to keep them working at their most effective.
In order to buy in to your ‘why’, employees also need to trust you – and to feel that you trust them. If you let them down, go behind their backs or demonstrate a lack of loyalty to them, they will never trust you and will therefore never engage with your aims. Building that relationship of trust is vital, and trusting them to understand and buy in to your aims is part of that.
What can I do to help my employees engage?
This is one of the questions that comes up most frequently in our work, no matter what the situation we’ve been asked to help tackle. While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, there are some simple steps any leader can take to improve engagement and lay the foundations for better engagement.
Honesty: Leaders often feel they’re doing the right thing by protecting their team from difficult situations and not sharing the full details of a challenge. Generally, the opposite is true. Employees are quick to realise when they’re being kept in the dark and it undermines their ability to trust their leaders. Wherever possible, share as much as you can with them about the wider picture – good and bad – and encourage their input in your plans for the future.
Be on their side: What people want from their managers is to feel they are supported and backed up. Managers need to listen and really hear what employees are saying, then act on it, even if that means taking issues to more senior management on their behalf.
Consistency: Following through what you say you will do is vital. Of course, it’s not always possible as circumstances change, but when that’s the case you need to go back and explain it to your team – taking us back to that point about honesty again. Consistency also means treating employees fairly and ensuring they know where they stand. There’s nothing more frustrating than a manager whose reactions are completely unpredictable.
Recognition: When team members perform well, make sure they know it has been noticed. We’ve all been in a position where we have slogged over a project and then felt our efforts haven’t even been seen – it certainly doesn’t inspire us to put as much work in next time. From a quick word to acknowledge individual effort to a team reward for a job well done, there are plenty of simple ways to make employees feel valued. Even the smallest acknowledgement can have a significant impact.
Development: Supporting team members to achieve their career goals is an important way to increase their engagement. Helping them develop skills in areas that will move them towards their ultimate aim, or putting them forward for opportunities that arise elsewhere in the business, will make them feel you are as invested in their future as they are. It’s a hard thing to do when you have a great team member as it may mean they move on to bigger things, but ultimately you will get more from an employee who feels you value them enough to support their future.
How can I get my managers to improve employee engagement?
Of course, it’s one thing to increase engagement with your own team, but getting managers at other levels to do the same with the people around them can be a bigger challenge.
There are ways to encourage managers to develop a more engaged workforce through training and development – and one of the most effective we have found is to use real-life scenarios. Asking managers to consider different ways of motivating their team and boosting engagement gets them to look at their current approach and consider whether it could be improved.
To support HR and L&D teams to do this, we have developed What Would You Do?, a game-based learning tool that can be used by any business. By posing challenges based on the real issues they may face in their day-to-day life and asking them to debate the merits of different responses, the game helps them not just to behave in the correct way in a training scenario, but to adjust their mindset and influence their thinking in the long term to give better results.
The result achieved through this approach have been impressive and the list of major companies turning to it as a training tool is growing by the day.
If you’d like to know more about how game-based learning could help your managers to develop a more engaged workforce, click here and read about What Would You Do?. To find out more about how it could be used in your business, contact us.