Engaging Your Employees

Engaging Your Employees

A common tenet of the hiring world is that employees leave managers, not jobs.

Gallup estimates that American employers lose between 450 and 550 million dollars per year in lost productivity from disengaged workers. That number is easy to accept with 70% of employees not engaged in the workplace. But how can management get workers actively engaged and ultimately more productive?

Imagine for a moment, a young startup, complete with the young startup repertoire. Millenials managing millenials, kitchen stocked with healthy options, and a calendar of events outside the office replete with team building options. This picture is one of youthful energy and purpose. Where could it go wrong?

The project manager is 28. She’s managed a few projects at a previous job and has great ideas. She’s willing to take the early train in and will shut the lights off on her way out. She wants to prove herself. The five new people on her team have each been prepped on their roles throughout the interview process and are excited to get rolling.

This project manager starts filling up the calendars of her team with important tasks. First she books a conference room for daily team stand-ups and individual afternoon check-ins. She grabs space for onboarding exercises and organizes team lunches. She gets access to project tracking software and begins the process of training her team on the protocol for logging all of their work. She can view and access their documents remotely to check progress and offer edits. She can hear the efficiency being proclaimed in meetings with her boss’s bosses. But then everything falls apart. Her team becomes bitter, feels micromanaged and undermined, loses productivity and sees some team members leave for greener pastures.

How to Right the Ship

This situation could have been avoided with a different outlook on how to handle employees. This project manager was ready for the big picture, with goals and a means to get them, but she failed to see her employees for who they were and manage their strengths in favor of fitting them into her system. She took away their power and lost their productivity as a result.

So how can you do things differently, do things better?

Engagement comes down to one core aspect: motivation. This can come in various forms, both intrinsic and extrinsic.


Extrinsically, incentives can be motivational. Engagement doesn’t usually come from compensation so that won’t be the focus here. Other incentives can be highly motivational. Flex time such as Friday early release when employees and teams hit their goals can motivate them to accomplish more as they see light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. In addition, the recognition of hard work and appreciation of effort will oftentimes motivate employees to put more into that work.

In addition to extrinsic rewards, there are other solid ways to get employees more engaged. One of the most successful is also one of the hardest for managers, particularly those like the one from the earlier scenario, to embrace. That is the art of letting employees make decisions.

Don’t micromanage or set up employees to fail. Inexperienced leaders put their hands on too much of each project, undermining employees instead of empowering them with the power to use their full potential. This happens in earnest when employees get a sense of ownership of their work and are proud of it. Intrinsic motivation doesn’t come from being a robot.

The time and energy people are willing to put into projects they feel ownership in is tremendous. Whether it’s a diner where the wait staff puts together their savings to purchase the establishment or a project management team where the team members are granted the power to create and build their ideas, the fundamental axiom is the same: people care about what they own.

Know Your People

So you’ve created an environment where your staff is motivated both intrinsically and extrinsically. What’s next?

There are some people who want to turn their brains off when they walk into the office and do the same task ad infinitum. Try to weed those people off of your payroll. For the staff you wish to hire, develop, and empower to succeed, create a workplace where they can grow. Your ultimate goal is to make your employees leaders themselves by imparting the skills you demonstrate. This happens when you put them in the position to build those skills.

Understand the strengths and weaknesses of your staff. There is a difference between putting people in situations to grow and situations to fail. Knowing your employees will help you see the difference. Instead of forcing employees into job descriptions in areas they aren’t comfortable find areas they gravitate toward. This goes for the all stars and the workhorses alike. These two descriptions can both be highly successful, but require different handling.

About author

Michael Barry
Michael Barry 31 posts

Michael Barry is the Editor-In-Chief at AgeOfTheSmallBusiness.com. Currently living in Boston, Massachusetts, he received his B.A. in Financial Economics from St. Anselm College and his MFA in Creative Writing from the Stonecoast Program at the University of Southern Maine.

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