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The recipe for company success calls for a lot of ingredients — and that list looks different for every organization. One staple ingredient every company can’t skip? Engagement.

In the first half of 2021, 36 percent of employees said they were engaged in their work and workplace — a figure that’s up slightly since a major dip in the summer of 2020. While that uptick may feel encouraging, employers still have plenty of room for improvement. On the bright side, managers can help shape initiatives that lead to genuine improvements in employee engagement and satisfaction.

Keep reading to learn more about employee engagement and the important role managers play in it.

What Is Employee Engagement?

The term “employee engagement” is more than just a buzzword in the wake of the major workplace shakeups we’ve seen over the last couple of years. While not synonymous, engagement goes hand in hand with employee satisfaction, a more straightforward term that represents how happy and satisfied a person is with their job and workplace.

So, what constitutes an engaged employee? Employee engagement encapsulates the success of both the employee and the organization. Gallup defines engaged employees as “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace.” Typically, engaged employees:

  • Feel more satisfied at work
  • Take pride in their organization
  • Believe in their work
  • Feel valued at work
  • Commit to their company and role
  • Work hard to contribute to the success of the business

Employee engagement plays a crucial role not only in employee happiness and satisfaction but also in a company’s bottom line. In fact, research shows engaged teams have better retention, which can save organizations significant time and money. Moreover, according to Gallup research, companies in the top quartile of employee engagement experience:

  • 81 percent less absenteeism
  • 18 to 43 percent less turnover
  • 18 percent higher productivity
  • 10 percent higher customer loyalty
  • 23 percent higher profitability

Several factors contribute to employee engagement, including a company’s leadership, culture, education and growth opportunities — and management.

Employee Engagement Matters

The Fundamental Role Managers Play in Employee Engagement

The relationship an employee has with their manager speaks volumes when it comes to employee motivation, disposition, productivity, and more. Gallup research suggests that the quality of a manager or team leader can account for at least 70 percent of the variance in team engagement. On top of that, more than half (57 percent) of people have left a job because of a manager, and 32 percent have thought about leaving because of a manager, according to research by the consulting firm DDI.

Managers Help Drive Engagement

Now that we’ve established how important management is for employee engagement, let’s dive into ways managers can improve it. Here are our top five tips for managers to boost engagement.

Build connections.

Engaged employees are more likely to feel connected to their company, work, and coworkers. That connection is more important than ever in distributed and hybrid workplaces. In a survey conducted by video messaging app Volley, when employees switched to remote work:

  • 70 percent felt more isolated.
  • 35 percent missed office celebrations.
  • 34 percent missed after-work happy hours.

To build real, sustainable connection, managers need to go beyond asking direct reports what they thought of the latest episode of Ozark while topping off their coffee mugs (especially when employees work from all over the globe).

These strategies can help managers build connections between team members.

  • Bake connection into recurrent team meeting agendas. For instance, ask everyone to share a highlight from their weekend at the start of every Monday morning huddle.
  • Create opportunities for direct reports to ask for support. Consider creating a shared agenda doc for your direct reports’ one-on-one calls. Encourage employees to write down pain points and questions they’d like to bring up during your call.
  • Encourage non-work-related connection time. Help your employees connect with each other by setting up virtual or in-person coffee breaks or team-building experiences where the objective is to not talk about work.

Give recognition.

By offering praise for employees’ accomplishments and expressing appreciation for their efforts, you can help your team feel seen, heard, and valued. To reaffirm that point, a study from Great Place to Work suggests employee recognition is strongly tied to satisfaction. Employees who don’t feel recognized or appreciated, on the other hand, don’t have the same positive sentiment toward their workplace.

Rather than just shelling out a couple of pats on the back from time to time, think about the bigger picture. Consider implementing an employee recognition program or working with a third-party platform like Ten Spot to regularly encourage employees to express appreciation for their team members.

Employee Engagement Matters

Live into the company’s culture, values, and purpose.

In a study from Glassdoor, 77 percent of adults would consider a company’s culture before applying for a job there, and 56 percent said they value a company’s culture over a competitive salary. In addition, employees are five times more likely to be excited to work at a company that spends time reflecting on the impact it makes on the world, according to a McKinsey survey on employee purpose.

So, how can you bridge the gap between company purpose and employee purpose? Lead by example by participating in your company’s social good initiatives. Then, take it a step further by working with leadership to cultivate an environment that makes room for — and celebrates — opportunities for employees to find more purpose in their day-to-day. These initiatives could include giving paid time off for charitable endeavors and offering employees the ability to flex outside the scope of their roles (for instance, to take on a mentorship role or head a new task force).

Provide learning and development opportunities.

The pursuit of purpose often requires learning, exploration, and development. While an employee may be thrilled with their career at first, that feeling may fade over time. By offering opportunities for your direct reports to learn, grow, build their skill set, and take on new challenges, they’ll be more likely to feel engaged at work and loyal to your company. In fact, employees at companies with internal mobility — where employees can move from one position to another — stay at their jobs almost two times longer than at companies without it, according to the 2021 LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report.

If your company offers free courses, career counseling, workshops, career shadowing, or any other opportunities for learning and development, encourage your direct reports to explore them. More importantly, allow your employees ample time to pursue these growth opportunities.

Improve feedback.

Providing regular, meaningful feedback matters. In fact, Gallup says it’s a critical factor for employee engagement — especially in the case of remote teams. However, according to Gallup research, only 28 percent of workers said they strongly agree they received meaningful feedback in the last week.

Offer feedback outside of performance reviews, and provide employees with specific, timely, accurate feedback designed to help them improve. Remember that feedback goes both ways. Regularly ask your direct reports what’s working and what’s not when it comes to meeting agendas, policies, communication style, and more.

Champion a Culture of Engagement

As a manager, some aspects of employee engagement will naturally fall out of your control. You can, however, lead by example and build engagement into the framework of your role as a leader. By fostering connections, giving credit when credit is due, helping employees find their purpose, providing opportunities to learn and grow, and improving feedback, you’ll be on your way to building a more motivated, satisfied, and engaged team.

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