Employee Engagement is All About Listening

Julie Shenkman
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Employee engagement is more than just a couple of buzz words at a staff retreat. Managers need to use active listening skills to keep their employees mentally and emotionally involved in their jobs. Working on these skills can provide big dividends for the entire company.

A lack of employee engagement leads to higher turnover rates and lower worker satisfaction. Engagement can be accomplished by listening to your employees, offering relevant feedback, acting on the information provided and possibly changing departmental processes or even aspects of the culture based on ideas presented by the staff. Effective managers, department heads and executives must be able to listen effectively to their direct reports to do this.

Disengagement occurs when personnel feel like they can't present new ideas to their supervisors or upper management. Employees may feel afraid to "rock the boat" or bring up new ideas for fear of reprisal, ridicule or even being passed over for a promotion. When employees do not have a vested emotional interest in their jobs, they tend to withdraw, become frustrated and eventually quit.

Managers can work to improve their listening skills, leading to better employee engagement. The first step is to show your employees you care about their ideas and their lives. Reward and publicly thank employees who come up with innovative ideas that save the company time and money. Adjust the workday for the single mom who can't get to work until 9:15 each day because she has to get her kids to school. Periodically invite employees out to lunch just to hear what they have to say.

When employees ask questions, make sure you understand what they are asking and elaborate on their concerns. Ask them follow-up questions to dig deeper into their requests. Give valid reasons for your responses. Even if your answer is not a resounding "yes," show them that you respect their perspective and feelings. Remember that employee engagement consists of a continuous loop that begins with listening, not talking.

It is important to be empathetic. People respect managers who are unafraid to show their human sides and even acknowledge their weaknesses. Let them know that you care about them even after 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. They will be happier and more productive knowing you care about more than just how much money they can make for the company.

The worst thing a manager can do is judge an employee's worth based on one idea. No idea should be treated as if it is ridiculous or outrageous. Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and the Wright Brothers were initially ridiculed for their "radical" ideas. Innovation is impossible without taking chances and speaking up, and people will only do so when they feel comfortable knowing that they will be taken seriously and there are no repercussions for trying something new.

Foster employee engagement by creating an environment where co-workers feel welcome and comfortable. Encourage employee involvement by recognizing hard work, organizing social events and giving employees independence to do their jobs. Doing so makes people feel valued and respected, allowing them to stay engaged.

Employee engagement starts with management. The onus for the free exchange of ideas can not be successfully placed on the employees or underlings. Show your leadership by allowing your employees to flourish in environment that values engagement and innovation.


Photo courtesy of Ky at Flickr.com



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