Discover a few key behaviors that effective leaders consistently exhibit that help get employees engaged in their work.

All around the world, businesses struggle to engage their employees. According to a global survey cited by Forbes, “less than one-quarter of employees are highly engaged and 39% are moderately engaged. Low levels of engagement among employees contributes to decreased customer satisfaction, slower revenue growth, high turnover, high absenteeism rates, and a myriad of other issues that negatively impact day-to-day operations as well as the bottom line.

There are many reasons why employee engagement might be low. However, one of the biggest issues is leadership. As noted in a Business Insider article, “people don’t leave jobs; they leave managers.” The behaviors and actions of those in leadership positions have a direct impact on employee engagement.

The question remains: “What can the leaders in your organization do to get and keep employees engaged boost engagement?”

Here are a few things that OnPoint has observed leaders doing to improve employee engagement:

1: Focusing On Employee Development

Top-class leaders in many organizations have improved employee engagement by focusing on employee development and career opportunities. These include:

  • Providing Ongoing Coaching and Feedback. The best leaders help guide their employees on the job—providing coaching and feedback that enables the employee to perform better over time. Ongoing coaching has the additional benefit of making the employee feel that their supervisor cares about their development.
  • Holding Career Discussions with Employees. “Where do you see yourself in five years?” isn’t just a question for job interviews. Employees need to see a chance for progress compared to their peers. As one Harvard Business Review article notes, “job hunting jumps 16% after [class] reunions.” This is because “they’re natural occasions for people to measure their progress relative to others.” Leaders who take the time to have career discussions with employees can prevent feelings of inadequacy and stagnation, which improves employee retention and engagement.
  • Creating Employee Development Plans. Beyond simply discussing potential career paths for employees, the most effective leaders create plans to help employees develop new skills and to take on new roles—or enhance existing skills to increase effectiveness. Documenting these plans and involving employees in their creation helps ensure that they understand what is expected of them and how to proceed. It also increases their sense of ownership and commitment to the plan.

By focusing on employee development, leaders can demonstrate that they are invested in their employees while improving employee skills and future prospects. This helps make employees feel valued and builds trust between employees and their leaders.

2: Creating a Supportive Work Environment

The best leaders are able to cultivate a supportive environment for their employees to work in. One way that leaders can do this is to be approachable and accessible for employees who need to talk. However, simply having an “open door” policy isn’t enough.

Ed Catmull, president of Pixar during the studio’s work on the hit movie Toy Story, had an open door policy and, as noted in a Forbes article, “still basking in the afterglow of Toy Story… found out that all of his producers wanted to leave. They felt that they’d been marginalized and disrespected throughout the entire production process.”

Despite having an open door policy and being “ready and willing to hear out employees’ complaints and take action to rectify whatever situation came up,” Catmull hadn’t heard about any of the grievances the producers had experienced during the movie’s production. This was because, despite the open door policy Catmull had in place, there were still barriers to overcome. As the article states, employees “have to cross through the invisible barrier—not to mention an assistant or two—that separates [the boss] from the outside world, interrupt whatever they’re doing, and then tell them something unpleasant.”

Instead of passively waiting for news from their direct reports, the best leaders proactively make themselves accessible to their team members. This provides opportunities for people to raise any issues that may be hindering productivity and engagement among the team. Great leaders encourage people to speak up and are good listeners when others have something to say.

3: Creating a Sense of Purpose

Great leaders often instill their employees with a strong sense of purpose. They understand the four basic components of purpose, including:

  • Organization. The higher purpose or “mission statement” of the company at large. This includes elements such as the organization’s culture and future vision.
  • Self. The employee’s sense of self that is built by pursuing values, overcoming challenges, learning/developing new skills, and overall sense of achievement.
  • Relationship to the Organization. How does the employee fit into and make a difference for the wider organization? What opportunities are there to innovate or improve?
  • Relationship to Others. What are the interpersonal relationships that team members have with one another? Is there a sense of community and shared purpose on the team to encourage people to help one another? This can also extend to how employees interact with people outside the organization, such as customers/clients.

Great leaders assess themselves on how well they establish purpose by asking themselves a few basic questions related to the above building blocks of purpose, such as:

    • Organization: “How well do I help my team have an explicit and clear understanding of our organization (beyond making money)?”
    • Relationship to the Organization: “Do I help each of my team members feel like they really make a difference in the company?”
    • Self: “Am I creating a workplace in which people can pursue their personal values?”
    • Relationship to Others: “Am I a champion of collaboration, helping others, and cooperation?”

4: Treating People in a Fair and Equitable Manner

Great leaders treat every employee with respect and fairness at all times and hold everyone—including themselves—to the same standards. There are many elements to treating people with respect, including:

  • Being Open and Candid in Interactions. A basic premise of treating people with respect is being open and honest when talking to them—while remaining tactful, of course. This helps build the leader’s credibility with their employees.
  • Clearly Communicating Expectations. Every employee should know what is expected of them. Great leaders are able to convey the when, what, why, where, and how of tasks to employees so no one feels lost or left behind after a meeting.
  • Including Employees in Decisions That Affect them. Making employees a part of the discussion when it comes to decisions that affect them is a key part of improving employee engagement. Leaders can solicit employees for input about ways to improve the workplace or ideas of how they’d like to develop their careers. Great leaders work with the people they lead—making employees feel more valued and respected.
  • Modeling the Right Behaviors. Great leaders are accountable to their employees, holding themselves to the same standards and practicing the behaviors they want to see in their teams. They meet the deadlines they set for themselves, carry through on their promises, and generally model the positive behaviors they want to see their employees emulate. This helps to prevent the perception of a “do as I say, not as I do” double standard.

5: Keeping Work Expectations Realistic

Great leaders, the ones who inspire loyalty and extra effort, know how to plan workloads to avoid burning out their staff. They prioritize work so that tasks remain aligned with long-term objectives without overworking their teams. Setting long-term goals early on and clearly communicating them can prevent confusion and frustration later.

Collaborating with employees—working with employees to provide sufficient resources to make otherwise difficult tasks achievable—is a key tactic that leaders can use to enhance employee performance and engagement. The best leaders help employees to maximize their productivity without making their teams sacrifice their work/life balance.

6: Communicating and Implementing HR Policies and Procedures

Many companies have tools meant to benefit their employees that many employees may not be aware of. The organization creates and implements programs like flex time, tuition assistance, internal mobility programs, and more for its employees, but unless those tools are used, the employees cannot benefit from them.

By discussing these perks and opportunities with employees and encouraging them to take advantage of them, leaders can play a vital role in helping to improve employee job satisfaction, motivation, short-term intent to stay, and foster a sense of advocacy towards the organization. This, in turn, helps to improve the employee’s’ engagement with their work.

To increase employee engagement, organizations need to enable their leaders to demonstrate the behaviors listed here. By integrating the above behaviors into their day-to-day interactions with employees, leaders can improve the productivity and engagement of their teams. However, getting leaders to adopt these behaviors may take some expert help.