When was the last time you made the effort to see, really see, what the people you work with are thinking and how they’re feeling about their jobs? With Gallup’s latest State of the American Workplace survey showing that 70% of U.S. employees are not engaged at work, it seems that the majority of managers would greet that question with a blank stare. Those managers are missing key information needed to attract and retain talented staff — not to mention keep them actively engaged in turning out a superior product.
Despite the dismal statistics on workplace engagement, there are many enlightened leaders who do one simple thing: They ask their employees how they feel. When they do so, they receive priceless information that helps them retain their best employees and optimize their productivity.
Daniel Parent, director of field human resources at video game retailer GameStop, is one of those leaders. He knows the power of checking in with his team. He has a recurring appointment on his schedule that says, “Ask employees how happy they are at work and what can I do to make them happier.” Daniel has learned over the years that simply asking those two questions indicates to his group that they have his support. Furthermore, he learns what their real issues are so he can provide them with meaningful direction.
By knowing what motivates his team, he can help boost their performance and their satisfaction on the job. His questioning also serves as an early warning system, allowing him to head off issues before they become intractable problems. Take Jennifer, for example. She so desperately wanted to be a good employee that she struggled in her new role as a working mother. Daniel recalled his conversation with her shortly after she returned to work from her maternity leave as one of the most poignant he’d ever had. When he asked Jennifer how happy she was at work, she confessed that trying to juggle both roles left her feeling like she wasn’t a good person.
Getting permission from her boss to spend time with her new baby was what made the difference for Jennifer. She and Daniel worked out an arrangement that met both of their needs. By communicating regularly, Daniel was able to reassure Jennifer that she was meeting all of his expectations and then some. That allowed her to turn her full attention to her child outside of work and really enjoy their time together. “I would never have known this was bothering her if I didn’t ask,” he says.
Daniel also recounts another instance in which an employee put what she perceived to be the needs of the company above her personal well-being. Heading into a meeting, she told him that she had a dentist appointment and would have to leave promptly at 4 when the meeting ended. At 4:10, the meeting was still in high gear with no sign of ending soon. Daniel leaned over to his colleague and whispered that she’d better leave in order to make her appointment. With a grateful smile, she slipped out and took care of her teeth.
Daniel points out that people don’t work for a company, they work for their boss. He has had employees tell him that they stay at GameStop because of him. “These are talented people who could easily get another, better-paying job elsewhere.” The small investment of time he makes in asking his employees how happy they are has paid off many times over when he considers what it would cost to replace any member of his team.
Assuming your team is made up of high-performing, highly motivated individuals whom you want to retain, here’s an action plan for monitoring and improving their engagement:
- Put a recurring appointment — monthly or quarterly — on your calendar and ask your employees whether they are happy at work and what you can do to make them happier. Don’t wait for the annual review to have this conversation.
- Maintain open lines of communication so that you can offer support and address issues before they become full-blown problems.
- Help all team members manage their professional obligations so they can meet their personal needs, allowing them to be present and focused on their work when they are in the office.
- Keep on questioning. Don’t assume that you have all the information you need if you’ve asked people once whether they’re happy. Circumstances inside and outside of the workplace change over time, and feelings can evolve accordingly.
Remember, relationships are built on a series of little moments that create big impact over time. Sending someone gratefully off to the dentist is not an earth-shattering event on its own. But it is an affirmation that someone’s personal needs are important and to be honored. Taken as a whole, many small actions can strengthen someone’s foundation or they can tear them down. The Gallup survey suggests that there is more erosion than building of the human spirit happening in the American workplace. Be someone who builds others up rather than tears them down. Little things matter in a big way.As Daniel says, checking in with his employees like this is all about retention. By communicating regularly with his employees, he knows what motivates them and the challenges they need to overcome in order to do their best work. This knowledge helps him reward his most talented team members in ways that are meaningful to them, which can change over time, depending on what is happening in both their personal and professional lives. Daniel’s efforts have been rewarded in the form of a highly engaged, productive and, yes, happy team of employees.
– by Allison Rimm
Fri 20 Sep 13