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Low employee engagement? Managers can help turn it around with this one habit

<i>SDI Productions/E+/Getty Images</i><br/>One key thing managers need to know is how to communicate well. In fact
Getty Images
SDI Productions/E+/Getty Images
One key thing managers need to know is how to communicate well. In fact

By Jeanne Sahadi, CNN

Employers who want a productive, engaged workforce could do more to train, develop and support those in their managerial ranks. That’s because managers are the secret sauce.

Gallup’s Quarterly Workforce Indicator surveys consistently show that managers are a linchpin to employee engagement, retention, productivity and trust in leadership.

As it turns out, effective training for managers is not a thing at many workplaces. “I would say 99% of employers don’t provide effective training — and I’m not exaggerating there,” said Ashley Herd, a former human resources executive who founded @ManagerMethod. “While some provide training, rarely is it effective [in providing] the guidance needed to help managers understand how to meet business goals while supporting employees in the right way,” she said.

One key thing managers need to know is how to communicate well. In fact, how managers speak with employees — and how often — can go a long way to building employees’ trust and commitment, according to Gallup.

Managers who already feel stretched thin may not be psyched to hear this, but one of Gallup’s surveys — which included responses from more than 67,000 US workers — found that the most effective way to make someone feel connected to an organization is to have a “meaningful” conversation every week with each direct report to discuss goals, customers and well-being as well as offer recognition. The recommended time to allot for each conversation: 15 to 30 minutes.

Sounds like a lot. But if you have, say, a team of 10 people, you’re talking about walling off no more than 2.5 hours a week.

“We find this single habit develops high-performance relationships more than any other single leadership activity,” Gallup researchers noted.

Engagement has been dropping

The workplace research firm’s surveys have found that the ratio of engaged to actively disengaged US workers is 1.8-to-1 today, down from a record high of 2.7-to-1 in 2019.

The purpose of regular check-ins, researchers noted, is to have “strengths-based conversations that bring clarity and purpose to work — which is now deteriorating in US organizations.”

Helping employees to feel connected is especially critical in a hybrid work environment, which done right can itself also boost employee engagement, Gallup found.

Other ways to build trust and engagement

In a separate study, Gallup has found that employees feeling free to speak truthfully about the effects of big changes at work is one key way to build trust in leaders.

“When employees strongly agree that they have had opportunities to provide honest feedback about organizational changes, they are 7.4 times as likely to have confidence in their leaders to successfully manage emerging challenges,” Gallup research noted.

What can a company do to better train managers?

Herd offered a few recommendations for what employers can do to improve their development of managers. For starters, she said:

Survey managers: Find out what training they are receiving, what training they would like to see and what they do that works well for their teams.
Survey employees: Find out what support they are getting from their managers, and what they would like to see.
Appoint someone to lead trainings: Name an internal learning and development contact or someone from HR to gather information on best practices from those surveys. Have that person then lead an internal training for managers and another one for employees about how to work with their managers. Ask a handful of participants in each to talk about the best practices they’ve used — and have different leaders talk about their styles (e.g., extrovert or introvert), how they found their voice and how they work with different personalities on their teams.
Set baseline requirements for communications with employees. One might be for managers to regularly meet with direct reports and not cancel on them except in a true emergency or when the manager is on PTO.
Have managers share their meeting agendas ahead of time with employees. That way the manager and employee can add items if they wish.
Encourage managers to listen. “[Remind them to] ask questions of employees, rather than just talk themselves,” Herd said.

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