The word ‘engagement’ is thrown liberally around corporate Australia these days. If one is engaged to the organisation, he or she feels ‘part of’ it. Loyal, committed or attached to its way of operating, personalities, goals and ideals. The focus on engagement has accelerated throughout the ‘noughties’ because retaining people is a challenge. Simply put, engagement is usually closely linked to feeling good about what we do, who we spend time with and what we are achieving in the context of our own expectations (which are in turn, strongly influenced by the expectations of those things we value).
Of course, as a result of this focus, managers are encouraged to behave in ways that are consistent with increasing levels of engagement among their employees (usually monitored by engagement surveys). Behaviours that will increase people’s sense of worth and happiness in the workplace and that are fundamentally consistent with their expectations of management behaviour. These expectations, by the way, may vary depending on factors such as generation, industry, educational background and ethnic culture. For the purpose of this article we will focus on identifying a set of leader behaviours that we see are relevant to the emerging professional workforce.
For many senior executives, behavioural adjustment is vital to achieving higher levels of engagement. Highly geared and with a strong entrepreneurial bent, we have high expectations. Often thinking about tomorrow rather than today, consumed by the higher level business challenges, avoiding where possible getting consumed in the detail and always time poor, it is easy for us to forget that we are one of the most important cogs in the engagement process. So to make life easier for managers, senior or otherwise, here is a list of six (6) leader behaviours that will assist in building a sense of employee engagement in the professional environment.
Six Leader Behaviours to Build Employee Engagement
1. Show an interest in the lives of those who work around you. When it comes to your direct reports you should know what football team they support, that their son is completing his university degree or that their mum or dad is in hospital. You don’t need to be consumed in the detail of their personal lives, but humanising work is essential! These are what I call connection points and help you to open dialogue in a range of different situations. One of the main reasons provided by under thirties for leaving their workplace is that ‘they don’t care about me’.
2. Let them know ‘You’re a Leader and also a Coach’. Talk and act in a way that is committed to developing individuals and remember that when individual development needs are incongruent with the business needs, it may be time to discuss other future job opportunities with the individual. When you give them feedback, do it on the basis of an improvement discussion, not a criticism. Most importantly, keep the conversations about development going throughout the whole year, not just at appraisal time.
3. When possible, find out what they think, before saying what you think. In meetings try the rule of thumb of letting two people share their view before you do.
4. When possible, tell them that they’re doing something good. Often as managers we can easily end up telling people what they don’t do right as opposed to what they do well.
5. Be consistent and fair across the team. Most people don’t want to work for an organisation that is inconsistent in its expectations or messages. This includes ensuring a consistent message from management (not undermining or blaming other managers for implementing strategies that you may not personally agree with) and treating people without favour across the team. Remember having people you like better than others is natural. Showing it is unacceptable.
6. Be clear about objectives and strategies. Educated people expect to know where it’s all going both for themselves and the organisation! ‘Directionless’ is a common complaint of the out-going dissatisfied employee.
The Pay Factor
Much research indicates that pay is only a satisfier and is unlikely to be a ‘holding’ factor for an employee in a competitive market. iHR’s research through its surveys support this time and time again. Turning to pay rates as a solution is an attempt to deal with a complex issue in a superficial way. If the organisation has money, paying people requires a lot less effort than adjusting complex elements of workplace culture such as leader behaviour.