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How do good managers engage their employees?

What helps your people feel engaged and drive them to do better work

Helen Marshall Chief Learning Officer

How do good managers engage their employees?

"People don't leave jobs, they leave managers."

Perhaps cliché, but it's a saying for a reason. A bad boss is enough to make anyone's work life miserable. 

According to Gallup, almost half of employees have left a job to get away from a manager at some point in their career. Pretty damning. 

On the other hand, many of us have had great managers who have helped shape our careers. Good managers provide strong foundations for feeling supported, encouraged, and engaged while we're at work.

But instead of thinking of someone as just a good or bad manager, we've got to think about what it is they do (or don't do) that makes a difference.

What helps employees feel engaged?

There are four enablers of employee engagement: strategic narrative, engaging managers, employee voice and organisational integrity.

  • Strategic narrative. Visible, empowering leadership who provide a clear narrative about the organisation, where it’s come from and where it’s going.
  • Engaging managers. Managers who focus their people, treat them as individuals and coach and stretch them to achieve their best.
  • Employee voice. Employees are involved in decisions that affect them, are listened to, and invited to contribute their experience, expertise and ideas.
  • Organisational integrity. All values are reflected in day-to-day behaviours. Promises made are kept, or an explanation is given as to why not.

There's a common theme in these drivers: managers and leaders

As a manager, engagement is either related directly to how you act, or a result of other things you control. So how can you use your influence for good?

How to engage your team

Set good foundations

Sure, you might not be able to control all aspects of the employee experience yourself. But CIPD research into employee engagement identified five areas managers can focus on to make a difference to the people they lead:

1. Being open, fair and consistent

This means leading with integrity and consistency, not having favourites or taking sides. You manage your own emotions well and don't pass on any of your own stress onto your team. Your team can trust you to do the right thing.

2. Handling conflicts and problems effectively 

You are fair and take responsibility for resolving issues within your team. If you need to deal with employee conflicts, including bullying or harassment, you listen and take appropriate action.

3. Offering knowledge, clarity and guidance

You communicate clearly, offer advice and guidance and make decisions responsibly and confidently. Your team all understand their individual roles and what you expect from them as well as the wider responsibility of the team.

4. Building and sustaining relationships

You make time for the people you lead. You make an effort to be approachable and you are empathetic and considerate in your interactions. You show your team that you care about them as a whole person, not just a worker.

5. Supporting learning and development

You help people identify areas for development and support learning in those areas. You set up opportunities for career progression and development for the people in your team.

Of course, these are only the start. Think of these five areas as the foundations on top of which you can build more personalised experiences for those you lead.

Find out what drives your team

Some engagement drivers make a bigger impact on different people. No two people are exactly the same, after all. 

The best way to figure out what makes the biggest difference to the people in your team is to ask them. What drives them? What frustrates them?

For example, in your next one-to-one meeting with each of the people you lead, you could ask them questions like:

  1. Are you engaged with your work at the moment? If not, why not?
  2. Are you overwhelmed at all? If so, what can you do to support them?
  3. Are you challenged enough? If not, how can you help motivate them?
  4. Are you enthusiastic about what you do? If not, what would help?

Asking questions like this can help you gain insight into what energises the people in your team, and what makes them tick. 

Reduce stress and promote wellbeing

Reducing stress and promoting the wellbeing of your team members is also something you play a big part in. How can you reduce stress in your team?

Look for common stressors. These are things like tight deadlines, overworking, and understaffing. Can you help take any pressure off in these areas?

Speak to your team members individually. For example, in your regular one-to-one meetings, you could ask questions like:

  • How do they feel about their workload?
  • Do they have all the resources and training they need to do their job?
  • Is there anything blocking them or making their job more difficult?
  • Do they understand their role and the expectations you have for them?
  • Is there anything you could be doing to better support them at work?

Set a good example

"If managers are disengaged, their teams are three times more likely to be disengaged too." - The Employee Engagement Group

Managers set the tone for what's expected. So think about the message you send to your team. If you're not checked in, your team aren't likely to be checked in. If you overwork, or you're always online, this also sets a poor example. Find balance and set your own boundaries to help the people you lead do the same.

Managers can make or break employee engagement. So ask yourself:

  • Have you built strong enough foundations for your team to thrive?
  • Do you know what drives everyone in your team?
  • Are there any engagement barriers you can break down?

Interested in helping your business leaders develop the skills to become a great manager? Check out our Management bundle from THRIVE's Content Club that's packed with useful resources to help your people become the best managers they can be.

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