How to engage effectively with your employees
Employee engagement is hugely important for all companies, but particularly for small independent businesses. In this blog I aim to give an introduction to this key topic and the crucial dos and don’ts that you need to know.
Even for large businesses employee engagement is crucial, but I believe even more so for smaller ones because you have fewer people who can make a real impact with your customers and on your bottom line.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that a lot of the drivers for engagement do not come with direct costs, so applying it is a cost-effective way of helping you develop a competitive advantage over your rivals.
Let’s start with the barriers you have to overcome – those employees you find it most difficult to motivate and integrate into your team initiatives. Why are some employees more difficult than others to interact with?
As with many areas of life, past experience has a lot to answer for here in establishing behaviours. If someone has only ever worked for organisations or managers that have not made them feel valued and involved, or at worst treated them badly, they will assume all managers are like this and react accordingly by being closed off or defensive.
Other main causes are feeling that they have been unfairly treated in some way and, of course, an outside influence that has an impact on them, e.g. issues at home.
There are some warning signs you can look out for here; most notably look out for any changes in an employee’s behaviour. For example, if someone who is usually very chatty and bubbly appears quiet, then don’t be afraid to ask if there is something wrong. Or if they usually contribute to team meetings and share ideas and this suddenly stops, again highlight that you have noticed this and ask why. Don’t be afraid to ask ‘have I done something to offend or annoy you?’
The most common mistakes employers make when trying to engage with their employees are:
- Applying very poor (if any) communication, especially two-way communication.
- Treating everyone the same. It is important to be fair but people are different and need to be treated as such.
- Not providing suitable training for the employee’s immediate manager(s). Poor leadership and management can contribute to an employee feeling isolated.
- Not giving the process any thought or time. Engagement does not happen by accident, it takes effort but the rewards are huge.
What you can do
Enhancing your own communication skills is obviously vital, and a good place to start is to focus on the art of listening. In my experience I have found the most common reason why employers find communicating with their employees difficult (particularly two-way communication) is because of their inability to listen, as opposed to just hearing people. This applies not just to what words are being said during the conversation, but also their body language. Make an effort to really concentrate on what that employee is saying. They may have taken a great deal of time and courage to bring up a particular matter with you; if they are visibly uncomfortable (fidgeting, fiddling with their hair, etc.) then your sensitivity to the subject being raised will help put them at ease.
You also need to make the time to communicate effectively with your staff, possibly through individual one-to-one discussions. Make firm dates in your diary and commit to them. And make sure you do this with all your staff, including those who work part-time or those based out on the road. It’s very important not to miss anyone out, even if they aren’t always there.
The more time you can devote to this, the easier it will become to get to really know your staff. This will naturally evolve into a situation where you value each of your staff as individuals and not just employees. When this happens you will come across as a more natural and well-rounded leader.
You then need to involve your team in decisions and problem solving exercises – this will increase their connection with the company and, feeling more involved, they will be motivated to see the company performing successfully. If a situation arises where you can’t involve someone in a decision-making/problem-solving process, take them aside and gently explain why. If you don’t explain why, they will feel shunned. Just a simple explanation shows them that you are still including them as part of the team.
Finally, make sure that whenever you are applying the above techniques you are coming across as genuine. If you are just going through the motions because you feel you have to, people will easily see through it.
What you get out of it
In my experience, I have seen a great deal of benefits for employers who have made a more robust effort to increase their engagement with employees. For example, through excellent and honest communication with staff at all times, I once saw a struggling business that was days away from closure go on to survive and then thrive. This included staff working for free over a weekend to move to a smaller location to save on rent, and even some staff volunteering to reduce their hours to save on costs. This was all down to the owner being honest with the situation, clearly doing all she could to save their jobs and also listening to ideas. The staff were engaged with the organisation and the owner, not just looking out for themselves.
Other positive outcomes include:
- Improved customer/client satisfaction and retention
- Increased sales
- Increased profitability
- Increased innovation and creativity
- Reduced sickness and staff turnover
- Reduced employee relations issues (discipline, grievance etc)
- Fewer errors and accidents.
People really do pull together when needs be, providing you have communicated with them well enough. So – communicate, communicate, communicate!