Engagement is a hot topic these days, and organizations are all trying to get better at it. But how can you actually improve? Here are three key things to consider when developing your employee engagement techniques.
1. Engagement is time and attention
It is that simple. You engage employees by investing your time in them. When you take the time to talk with people one on one or in small groups, they have an opportunity to be seen and heard. No matter what the topic is, the fact that you are spending your limited attention and your precious time to work with them sends a clear message that you value them and you are invested in their success. This message goes a long way and is instrumental in motivating people to invest in themselves, share their valuable insight, and offer their limited time and attention to goals of the team, division and agency.
2. A little time and patience goes a long way
Employee engagement means assigning people challenging work and helping them navigate through it with coaching. One of the most rewarding engagement experience I’ve experienced in my career only lasted 15 minutes but led to a national training that benefits hundreds of my fellow practitioners. In my first year as a supervisor, I sent my boss a document that I had reviewed and approved. It was a legal document but the technical team was reviewing it for the technical requirements. Shortly after, I got a call from my supervisor and she asked if I have a minute to chat. She came to my desk, sat next to me and explained her comments.
They were few but they were substantial. She explained to me that key provisions in the order were missing and those were vital to the integrity and effectiveness of our program. She could have just sent me the red-edited document back or summoned me to her office, but she came to my desk and she talked to me; she taught me. I felt respected, empowered and motivated. She invested in me, and I felt empowered to invest in myself and in my team. I developed a training that included that topic and other related topics and engaged the experts to edit and present it. A year later, it was picked up by HQ and we presented nationally. That is the power of effective engagement: Time and attention is engagement. Engagement is investment, and it’s an investment that can yield high returns.
3. You don’t have to ask about personal things to connect with your team
It’s a common misconception that in order to build relationships with people at work, you need to talk about non-work-related things, like family, interests and other small-talk topics. I don’t like small talk. I prefer to talk about the work, but in a way that engages the individual or the team. Think of every problem-solving dialogue as an abbreviated escape room experience. Working together to achieve a goal builds trust and, by extension, relationships.
I love when my staff pop in for chat about an issue they are having at their site. They come in exasperated; they vent; we chat; they leave with some ideas we came up with together; we’ve connected. This is the epitome of employee engagement! In those conversations, sometimes five minutes and sometimes 30, I communicate that their work is important and their success is my goal.
Everyone engages a little differently, and I adapt to their preferences. When people want to talk about personal stuff, interests, and family, I listen and share in kind. But I don’t start there because I don’t think it is necessary to build relationships, and it can make some people uncomfortable. I can learn a lot about a person by how they work and how they solve problems, and I adapt my interactions with them in response.
That is it. Simple, right? Of course, it is easier said than done. The most important thing is to implement engagement in a way that suits you, your team, and the work. If you are not extroverted, find ways to engage that don’t involve a lot of fanfare. If you need the fanfare, have at it.
The most important thing is to have fun doing meaningful work. The fun is in the engagement. The fun is in the work. The fun is in working on challenging goals as an individual or as a team.
Go forth and do great things!
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Nefertiti is a Supervisory Life Scientist for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She is passionate about employee engagement, mentoring and helping people and groups achieving their goals. Her leadership mantra is, “Prioritize people. Simplify processes. Celebrate progress.” In her free time, she enjoys reading, drawing and writing. Nefertiti is the mother of a curious and compassionate seven-year-old, with whom she enjoys rediscovering the world.