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Only 33% of employees are engaged in the U.S., according to Gallup, and this number has been stagnant for several years. Reasons for unengaged employees range from lack of passion for a job, having leadership that is not involved, to not feeling appreciated in the workplace. While it is the responsibility of both leaders and employees at a company to ensure engagement, management should always have the goal to develop and grow their employees. This benefits the individual employee, but also helps establish the leader’s management skills, the team’s success, and a company’s overall environment.

So what can a leader do to increase engagement, develop employees and improve the business?

Explain the company’s direction, strategy and goals

When an individual is hired and onboarded, their manager should describe the company culture and standards that are expected of each employee. This can be the company mission and values, but managers should go beyond these statements to having an open discussion with the new hire about expectations, as well as the company’s overall strategy, plan and goals for the future. This conversation not only ensures everyone is on the same page, but also gives the new hire some direction and an early understanding of the big picture everyone is working toward.

Encourage professional development, and create a plan

A manager should sit down with each employee to understand their individual goals and aspirations, and discuss how these align with the goals of the company. A manager should encourage the employee to create a professional development plan outlining where they would like to be in the next five, ten and twenty years, what skills they would like to gain, and where they would like to take their career. This helps the manager understand an employee’s interests, and then allows her to suggest projects or tasks that can help with their development. And this helps the employee, because writing out his professional goals allows him to visualize and take charge by making a timeline of his developmental goals.

Suggest or help find a mentor

Having a professional mentor allows individuals to ask for advice, share ideas and get inspiration from someone they admire. This could be someone in their field or in a position they would like to reach one day – or it could be their manager or boss. If a manager is not comfortable taking on the responsibility of being a mentor, she can help the employee find a relevant mentor using her connections. And while a manager may not want to take on this responsibility, the manager should still be open to giving advice and suggestions as needed.

“Research indicates that paying attention to the strengths of others is a critical element in developing others to be more successful, as well as building effective partnering relationships.” – Dr. Karissa Thacker, management psychologist

Share networking events and opportunities

As a manager, a good practice for the company and for individual employees is to share networking events with the team. This is a great opportunity for employees to meet with others in the industry to share information about the company and potentially get more customers or clients. Additionally, employees can meet with others to learn about industry trends and get ideas or inspiration. Showing that management cares about employees by inviting them to events goes a long way for their professional development and engagement in the workplace.

Ask for their advice or opinion

An easy way to help employees grow is to ask for their advice or opinion on a topic or upcoming project. Truly engaging in conversation about a particular project, and asking questions about why they made particular suggestions, shows that a manager values their employees and trusts their judgment. Often, employees might not speak up or offer their thoughts unless asked, at least in the beginning, so encouraging employees to share insights and offer expertise is important. Each individual brings a different background and skills to the table, and the best work comes when everyone is encouraged to contribute.

Give feedback

All employees should receive feedback from their managers regularly about their performance. This open communication ensures everyone is on the same page about tasks, and allows employees to continuously grow. Employee feedback should include positives about what individuals are doing well and constructive criticism to aid in consistently improving their work and development. Managers should welcome questions from employees and ask for their feedback about projects, their work environment, issues they are having, and what they can do to help with anything. This communication and genuine concern for employee wellbeing is significant for everyone involved.

Employee engagement and development is an important aspect of a company’s growth and success, and focusing on it helps both managers and employees continuously improve. Taking the time to lead employees and focus on their progress benefits managers, their team and the company as a whole.