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5 ways you're killing employee engagement

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14 August 2017
The focus on employee engagement has risen dramatically in recent years as organisations become more acutely aware of the central role that engagement plays in employee productivity, retention and job satisfaction.
Our own 2015 Global HR Barometer report found that 46% of organisations are now actively tracking employee engagement, yet only 21% of employees identify as highly engaged.
Companies will often invest significant resources in trying to measure, track and improve employee engagement, yet often the biggest obstacles are those hardest to resolve because they are a direct result of management, their attitude and behaviours. When trying to uncover obstacles to engagement - often done via employee surveys - workers may be reluctant to explicitly point the finger at management for fear of being exposed as the accuser. That's when it's time to turn your attention inwards.
If your organisation is struggling with low engagement, poor productivity and a seemingly revolving door of resignations, take some time to consider whether any of the following apply to you.

1. You're inconsistent

We all have bad days, and sometimes it’s harder to hide our emotions than others. But as a manager it is your job to keep your team on an even keel, and you need to be aware how much influence your demeanour has over them. This is called emotional intelligence (EQ).
If your employees have no idea which version of you is going to turn up today - the fun, joking boss? The demanding task master? The ready-to-snap rage monster? - they will feel anxious and uncertain of where they stand with you and their time will be spent walking on eggshells rather than working.
Actively cultivating and exercising emotional intelligence is critical for managers, and is often considered more important than overall IQ.

2. You play favourites

There will always be employees you like more than others on a personal level - it's simply human nature. However, when you allow this preference to become apparent to your team - for instance, only showing praise to a few employees and neglecting the others, or enjoying social outings with a select group - those who are not included will likely feel demoralised and worry about why they've been excluded from your inner sanctum.  
As the boss, you must aim to appear equitable and neutral towards your team, as tough as that may be.
Front-line management is one of the most difficult and under-recognised roles within an organisation. You need to deliver against the expectations of senior managers and executives while also supporting and managing a team.

3.  You don't recognise or reward employees

It is natural to want recognition for our efforts. When good work goes unrecognised it can be demoralising and make some people question why they put in the effort when no one seems to care.  
The need to be recognised can be more pronounced among different generations. It is often said that the millennial workforce in particular needs to have their efforts recognised in order to feel engaged and valued, though we believe recognition should be applied across the board. You don't need to be effusive in your praise - a simple email acknowledging a job well done will usually suffice. And don't forget the old saying "praise in public, criticize in private". Set aside five minutes of your regular team meetings to recognise good work, and open the floor so people can praise their peers. This will not only improve engagement and good will, it will strengthen team bonds.
Don't underestimate the power of rewards to motivate workers. And when it comes to rewarding employees, you don't need to go to great lengths or expense. Most workers will appreciate the sentiment behind a reward, even if the reward itself is something small. A team pizza party as a treat upon completion of a project can go a long way! Worried your budget can't cover that? 

4. You micromanage

There is a reason the phrase "hire the right people for the job then get out of their way" is popular in business circles - because it's true. When you micromanage your employees, you are saying that you do not trust them to do the job they were hired to do.  
Think about why you are struggling to let go of the reins - do you not trust the work to be done correctly? Is there a precedent of work not being done to standard? Do you need that level of understanding to satisfy your higher ups?  
If it is the latter reason, explain that to your team so they know it isn't due to a lack of trust. If there is an existing precedent of poor work, why has that not been thoroughly addressed? Micromanaging output is not the way to address the issue. If it is any other reason, you need to take a good look at why you have hired employees you don't trust and address any deficits in your hiring process immediately.

5.  You don't acknowledge your weaknesses or aim to improve

It must be said that front-line management is one of the most difficult and under-recognised roles within an organisation. You need to deliver against the expectations of senior managers and executives while also supporting and managing a team. Often managers are placed into their position with little or no specific management training; they're simply expected to succeed.
While this places a lot of pressure on managers, this doesn't mean you can use this as an excuse not to improve. Demonstrating that you're willing to improve yourself and your management style is key, especially if you also expect your team to be developing and improving.
Often, managers who have been in their position for a while will find this the most challenging, but they are probably the group most in need of a look at their management style. As new generations, or even new employees with different working styles, enter the workforce, you need to adapt your approach if you want to manage people effectively because people all want to be managed differently.  
 
 
Summary: 

Often poor employee engagement can be traced back to management.  Ensure you're not doing your team a disservice:

  1. Try and keep your demeanour consistent and cultivate your emotional intelligence (EQ)
  2. Don't show a preference for certain team members.  Aim to be neutral towards all your employees.
  3. Ensure you recognise good work and make an effort to reward employees
  4. Trust employees to do the job you hired them to do and avoid micro-managing
  5. Demonstrating that you're willing to improve yourself and your management style