8 questions leadership should ask when employee engagement is low
| November 15, 2023
Businesses are only as strong as their employees, so employee engagement directly impacts your organization's ultimate success. And, while one-off situations occur where some employees may not fulfill their potential, it's typically leadership to blame when numerous staff members simply aren't engaged. If you're noticing that you're "losing" employees with your current leadership techniques, it may be time to ask yourself — and your management staff — some tough questions that help your business self-correct issues with employee engagement.
1. Do I create a safe atmosphere for employees?
A psychologically safe atmosphere helps businesses create a culture of quality and trust. You can create a safe space by fostering an inclusive environment where open communication is the norm. Listen to what employees say, then put that feedback into play to boost engagement and build loyalty by showing you care about their thoughts and ideas.
Also, look to current practices within your company to see where you may fall short. For instance, ignoring concerns from workers because you don't want to deal with the conflict means your leadership skills need an upgrade. Allowing issues to fester rather than addressing them quickly and concisely can make employees hesitant to contribute and share going forward.
2. Do I offer opportunities for employee growth?
Look at the things you're doing to aid worker development. For example, programs that extend training or pair up workers with more experienced mentors can help the growth of your current staff and provide a more challenging atmosphere. Conversations about career development plus clear-cut paths to career goals give employees something to strive toward, which keeps them engaged. Opportunities such as this also demonstrate to employees that your organization wants to invest long-term in them and values the skills and contributions they bring to the table.
Likewise, failure to provide growth opportunities may leave some star players in a lurch. Good leadership means recognizing workers with potential and nurturing it. Otherwise, you run the risk of creating a stagnant work environment. High-quality employees who aren't getting the support they need or who feel undervalued may start looking for more rewarding opportunities elsewhere.
3. How can I recognize and reward employee effort?
Acknowledging employee contributions and showing appreciation for their achievements can help improve engagement. You might do this by introducing employee incentives such as recognizing milestones like work anniversaries or creating peer-nominated recognition programs that highlight the value of teamwork. Conversely, taking workers and their contributions for granted can lead to lackluster morale or a completely disengaged workforce by demonstrating hard work goes unrewarded.
4. How can I improve worker well-being?
While you may think you're doing plenty to foster a good work-life balance for employees, you may not be doing quite enough. Many workers are now used to more flexible schedules, so enforcing a return to brick-and-mortar locations may cause some angst. To alleviate this issue, focus on making it worth their while to commute with perks like wellness programs and frequent breaks to unwind, then come back to tasks fresh. Flexible working hours may also motivate those with kids, as might hybrid schedules, with some days spent at the office and some spent remotely. By accommodating employee needs, you show you care about their overall well-being and not just what they can do for you.
If, however, your employees spend long hours at their jobs without corresponding rewards for that commitment, you may run the risk of burnout. A negative work-life balance not only leads to issues with morale and mental health but also takes a physical toll, which means employees may not be on top of their game during work hours, degrading productivity.
5. How can I instill a sense of meaning and purpose?
Almost everyone wants to feel part of something bigger than themselves, so most people look to their work for meaning and purpose. If your leadership can tap into that ethos and inspire employees to work toward your organization's values and goals, your staff can move (proverbial!) mountains. Good leaders foster meaning and purpose by clearly communicating needs and highlighting employee contributions. This recognition and guidance often motivate workers and deepen their commitment to your company.
If you fail to make that connection with your workers, however, they may not have a clear picture of how their contributions fit within the larger framework of your organization. This disconnection may mean employees don't fully grasp how to properly do their jobs, leaving them feeling awkward or ineffective in their positions.
6. How can I foster teamwork and collaboration?
Leadership is only as good as those who work beneath them, so teams that squabble or throw each other under the bus reflect poorly on their superiors. Good leaders build good teams by creating supportive settings that enhance engagement with things like team-building activities. Workers on cohesive, complementary teams are more apt to freely collaborate within their own working groups and on cross-functional projects with other teams.
Competitive environments, however, can discourage the collaboration that modern organizations require. A focus by leadership on individual goals rather than group efforts can also lead to pitfalls as stressed employees struggling to meet their own schedules may neglect the collective in favor of their own gain. These situations can, in turn, lead to broken, backbiting teams that argue and one-up each other rather than getting things done.
7. Do I afford workers with ample feedback methods?
Good leaders want to know what their workers are thinking, so they develop open ways to communicate with them. Holding frequent team meetings helps achieve this transparency, and regularly meeting with each employee one-on-one lets you address any private issues. You might also set up anonymous channels where employees can share concerns without fear of reprisal. When leaders actively seek feedback in multiple ways, they build trust and show employees their thoughts and ideas matter.
Remember — good leaders practice what they preach, so they don't withhold vital information. Likewise, failure to offer feedback and snubbing sincere worker concerns frequently lead to employee dissatisfaction, less motivation and a sense of exclusion.
8. Can my employees look to me as a good example?
Good leaders lead by example, so your words and deeds set the tone for engagement within your workforce. Qualities that announce good leadership far and wide include accountability, integrity and a strong work ethic, so if you expect 110% from your staff, you should roll up your sleeves and work alongside them each step of the way. One way to fulfill this mission is to look back to a time when you were in their shoes, then treat them as you wished leadership had treated you.
One of the qualities that may negatively affect your performance as a leader is inconsistent behavior. Inconsistency in what you say and do confuses your employees and sows the seeds of distrust. Other poor leadership qualities that typically lead to employee disengagement include playing favorites and ignoring the values set forth by your organization by seeking your own agenda.
Thriving organizations need employee engagement
Your business or organization lives and dies by the commitment of its workers. Poor employee engagement affects everything from basic everyday morale to productivity, making it hard to prosper and profit, especially in competitive industries. Likewise, workers who aren't engaged may see greener grass somewhere else and abandon your workplace entirely. The good news is that knowing the right questions to ask leadership can help you change course and create a space where every employee is interested, involved and engaged.
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