Rethinking Employee Engagement

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When it comes to employee engagement, managers often assume that the clearest path to a productive workplace is simple: Make your employees happy. Clear away every obstacle that lies in front of them, make the work easy, make the workplace fun, give them everything they ask for, and distribute constant surveys, taking every voice and every complaint into account.

But as it happens, this strategy isn’t always possible. And even when it is, it doesn’t always work. Effective management just mean removing obstacles to employee happiness. In fact, leaving some obstacles in place can challenge employees to extend their reach, take risks, grow, and gain a sense of accomplishment that feels great and deepens their commitment to the enterprise. Consider the list below.

Obstacles to Remove

1. Poor access to functional tools.

Never force employees to bring their own supplies from home or pay for resources that should be provided by the company.

2. Serious interpersonal conflict.

A toxic workplace that fosters bullying, bias, harassment, unfair compensation models, or uncivilized behavior is simply unacceptable. Fixing this is a manager’s responsibility.

3. Time constraints and potential burnout.

If your employees are facing more work than they can reasonably accomplish during the timeframe for which they’re being paid, fix this. Don’t expect employees to work outside of working hours, and don’t let them decide on their own which tasks to prioritize and which to cut.

4. A lack of clear direction.

In many situations, employees need to be told exactly what to do and how to do it. If you provide weak instructions and feedback, expect weak results.

Obstacles You Should Challenge Your Employees to Overcome

1. Minor interpersonal conflict.

Unlike the toxic behavior mentioned above, minor conflict resolution is an employee’s responsibility. Don’t intervene in every argument. Let your teams work out their issues on their own.

2. Workload sharing and scheduling issues.

If some employees are pulling the lion’s share of the load while other coast, let them speak up. Encourage them to find the courage to set things straight using the power of their own voices and scheduling skills.

3. Minor workflow and horizontal management issues.

Your assistant can’t provide you with the financial report you need, because the finance director hasn’t completed it yet. Should she A) sit at her desk playing solitaire, or B) follow up, crack the whip, and do whatever it takes to get the job done? If the answer is B, give her skills and training to do this and let her do it.

4. A lack of clear direction (higher level employees).

Higher level employees shouldn’t need hand holding and step-by-step directions at every turn. Let your employees show some initiative and take some risks. Sometimes it’s okay to let them figure out the details on their own.

For more on how to manage your teams without over-managing them, contact the Little Rock workforce specialists at CSS.

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