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According to Gallup data, “Managers have the greatest impact on engagement,” and “account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units.” IBM research similarly indicates that manager effectiveness impacts employee engagement;  not as the greatest factor, but it is consistently in the top ten. This suggests all those seeking to enhance their employees’ engagement have an interest in how effective their managers are in this respect. 

Sadly, it seems many managers are less effective than ideal. Gallup suggests that only one in 10 people possess the inherent talent to manage. CIPD reports one in five line managers are ‘ineffective’ according to their employees. And the latest Towers Watson Global Workforce Study indicates ‘poor manager relationship’ is one of the top reasons employees would consider changing employers and ‘meagre managers are adding to the UK talent drain.’

PAVE the way to Engagement

If you’re a manager, you might be wondering: “What can I do in the interest of improving my effectiveness at engaging my team?”  I’d suggest you keep things simple and focus in these areas: Purpose, Autonomy, Voice and Empathy.  Consider the extent to which these aspects of your working experience have affected your level of engagement. Then consider how you could practically apply them in your management of your team.

Purpose

Experiencing a sense of purpose is a major driver of engagement. Do your team members know how they contribute to the success of your business? Can you help them connect their contribution to something that matters?

The Royal Geographic Society reports: “during the twentieth century, life expectancy rose dramatically amongst the world’s wealthiest populations from around 50 to over 75 years.” Who do we have to thank for that? Not only medical researchers and health workers but also sanitation workers; raising our standards of hygiene has helped us live longer. Just as ‘street sweepers’ can and should be proud of their important contribution to society, your team members are entitled, and will want, to feel pride too.  Help them recognise or understand the purpose they serve, the contribution they make and why they matter to your organisation’s success!

Autonomy

Many believe there are three intrinsic human motivations. Alongside purpose they include autonomy and mastery. (This was popularised, for example, by Dan Pink in his book, “Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us.”)  I won’t cover the topic of helping your team members establish mastery as that is an area where many managers have confidence. But I encourage all managers to undertake an open minded audit of the extent to which they allow their team members autonomy.  This goes beyond delegation, it takes trust! Recognise that people will more likely rise to your expectations if they understand them. Then think creatively about how you could get what the business needs without relying on rules! The proverb goes, “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” So, contemplate how you can encourage productivity and progress by giving timely and meaningful feedback, offering some freedom of choice in allocation of work and being genuinely encouraging.

Voice

Being heard is part of experiencing belonging and a fundamental need we all have. Can you think of a time when someone asked for your advice and used it? That can be a great feeling!  Offer that gift to your team members to build an environment with respect and trust!

Create opportunities for your team members to be heard, not only by you but also by each other and by the wider organisation. Ensure your team are inclusive in meetings and discussions, allowing for differences of opinion to be expressed and respected, and ask for input and feedback regularly.

Empathy

Employee engagement is related to wellbeing at work. (See ‘Note’ below.) To experience a  sense of wellbeing, people need individual vitality, to feel competent in making a meaningful contribution (see ‘Purpose’ above) and to have resilience to changes beyond their immediate control.  This incorporates employees experiencing a physically, mentally and emotionally healthy workplace day to day. These are things somewhat within the remit and control of managers. So, from time to time, ask yourself what else is going on for your team members, more than just their work.

And if you observe early signs of physical or mental stress, acknowledge them, seek to understand them and address them sensitively (involving specialists to help if appropriate).

Note: What is Employee Engagement?

Many definitions exist for ‘employee engagement.’ These relate to whether engagement is affected by, or affects, feelings, behaviour or attitudes for example. Purcell expressed the view that, “engagement is a combination of attitude and behaviour. The attitude is ‘commitment’, and the behaviour is ‘going the extra mile.’” (Purcell, 2010)

Whilst there is no one agreed definition at this time, the PAVE areas above pertain to: “A workplace approach designed to ensure that employees are committed to their organisation’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organisational success, and are able at the same time to enhance their own sense of well-being.” (MacLeod and Clarke, 2009)

Written by Clodagh O’Reilly

Clodagh represents the Association for Business Psychology on the Engage Employee Advisory Board. She is a former Chair of the ABP who specialises in applying behavioural science in organisations to predict and enable optimal performance for individuals and organisations. She leads the Workforce Science & Analytics Practice for IBM’s Smarter Workforce unit in EMEA. Clodagh founded the annual Workforce Experience Awards programme and edited the book, “Delivering Excellent Workforce Experiences.”

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