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Four to soar: Strategies that drive employee engagement

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If you’re like a lot of workforce leaders, a strong hiring year and reported economic upswing may have you feeling cautiously optimistic about retention and increased productivity.

However, don’t count your chickens just yet. A prudent leader would be remiss to overlook two abiding truths:

< Only a mere 30 percent of employees claim to be engaged at work.

< The axiom, “people leave bad managers, not bad companies,” has never been more apropos than it is today.

In other words, despite the favorable economic climate, don’t expect to see “engaged employees” removed from the endangered species list anytime soon.

If you’re wondering why engagement stats remain flat in the face of marked economic growth, look no further than the changing landscape of today’s labor force. Millennials, who are now joined by generation Z, have saturated the market and altered the entire workplace fabric in the process.

Termed the “least engaged generation in the workforce,” millennials are surely noncommittal and professionally indifferent job-hoppers. They want on-site pinball machines, free assorted bagels and monthly pay raises, right?

Quite the contrary. This younger population is sharp, eager, tech-savvy and highly skilled. They are in dire search of connection, purpose and engagement at work – which of course raises the question: “Where do they find it?”

A recent Gallup study confirms employees expect and rely on managers to provide an engaging work environment and compelling reasons to anchor themselves to the company. They don’t just want a “boss,” they want a purveyor of progress, a curator of opportunity.

But not all managers are created equal. In fact, managers account for up to 70 percent of variance in employee engagement. Fortunately, there are strategies to create an environment that fosters and improves employee engagement:

(1) PROVIDE PURPOSEFUL WORK

Gone are the days when predictability and a steady paycheck formed the bedrock of job satisfaction. Today’s workforce wants to feel connected to what they’re doing; they want their company’s culture and mission to be congruous with their personal values.

How then, do managers cultivate meaningful and tailored opportunities for employees?

The oft-overlooked first step is to identify each employee’s unique skill set. This may require abandoning the standard approach of assigning tasks based solely on a canned job description.

Instead, go deeper. Use assessment tools to hone in on capabilities, preferences and workplace behaviors, which in turn allows you to discuss and assign projects and duties aligned with employee strengths and interests.

Pairing aptitude with passion keeps employees engaged and connected not only to essential job functions but to the organization on a macro level.

(2) POSITION EMPLOYEES TO INFLUENCE

Micromanaging is so passé. If you really want your team to flourish, loosen the reins.

Today’s workforce doesn’t want or need a hovering manager dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s.

Instead, cultivate trust, confidence and accountability among employees by giving them the opportunity to lead. Assign projects that require collaboration, independent research and the collective sharing of ideas.

By empowering employees to independently produce, you create a sense of value and, in turn, workers understand their contributions directly affect their team and company.

(3) OPEN RICH LINES OF COMMUNICATION

Millennials are no strangers to communication. With the myriad devices and real-time conversation channels, today’s workforce expects regular interaction with their manager. (And an annual performance review does not constitute regular communication.)

Sit with your employees and devise a communication plan that is mutually accommodating and effective. Whether it be Skype check-ins with remote team members, brief, on-site weekly progress meetings or a combination of face-to-face and electronic/phone communication, millennials want and need continuous feedback to feel engaged.

Allow time for employees to ask questions, voice concerns and solicit assistance, if needed.

Communication should not be strictly transactional and rigid. Millennials want to know their manager views them as people first, not just employees.

Ask them about personal interests and hobbies. Often, extracurricular activities highlight another dimension of an employee’s skill set, personality and drivers of motivation.

(4) STOP CHECKING BOXES,

START SETTING GOALS

Finally, bid farewell to a one-size-fits-all performance system. Annual reviews often frustrate employees and can feel superficial and perfunctory.

Today’s workforce wants development and a clear path to growth and improvement. And endless forms, drop-down menus and prescribed grading criteria are not the answer.

Discuss with each employee and establish realistic, measurable and relevant goals designed to maximize individual potential.

Another deviation is to focus on employee strengths, not weaknesses. Millennials want to capitalize on and further develop core competencies to produce greater output, work more efficiently and make impactful contributions. A strengths-based work culture yields higher rates of engagement.

Adapting management styles to meet the demands of today’s workforce can be challenging.

Investing in leadership and management training programs, behavioral assessments and other resources can help equip you and supervisors to generate and maintain high levels of employee engagement.

Kevin Robins is CEO of MidAtlantic Employers’ Association, King of Prussia, which helps businesses solve human resources challenges. For information, visit www.meainfo.org or call 800-622-6238.

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