What Disengaged Employees Would Say to the Boss (If They Could Be Honest)

Six tips for maintaining a healthy workplace culture.

Let’s assume you’ve just received the results of your organization’s employee engagement survey. They were disappointing. Now you need to understand why so many of your employees feel disconnected so you can make changes that will boost their engagement.

Suppose you could hear the honest truth about what the people you are responsible for leading think you should do? Here’s what you would likely hear, if it was communicated through a wise and capable spokesperson.

Include us in goal setting. We see that you are motivated to succeed. You work hard to set our department’s annual goals and achieve them. Unfortunately, that isn’t enough to engage us. We want you to include us in planning our department’s goals. Share what you have in mind in terms of goals for our department, and then have the humility to ask us what’s right, what’s wrong and what’s missing from your thinking. Listen to what we say, consider it and incorporate it before settling on our department’s annual goals. By doing this, you will receive the best thinking of all of us and we will feel a greater sense of ownership in our department’s direction.

Stay connected with us. As the year progresses, regularly keep us in the loop about how we are progressing toward meeting our goals. Seek our opinions about making any necessary adjustments, consider what we say and factor it into your decision-making. This begins with sharing information with us about how we are doing in meeting our goals and then having conversations about it. Also, periodically set aside time for us as a group to think about ways to improve our collective work by becoming more efficient by increasing productivity and reducing cost.

Align our individual goals with department goals. Take time to meet with us and learn about our career aspirations and what support we need to do our best work. Listen to and consider what we say and then look for ways to align department goals with our career goals. We understand perfect alignment isn’t possible, but together let’s find ways to create some degree of alignment so that our work is a win-win for us and for our department.

Don’t micromanage us; do encourage and be available to us. Let’s agree on individual goals and then give us an opportunity to show you what we can do without micromanaging us. Make yourself available if we need help. You can do this by regularly asking if there is anything you can do to help. Also, look for signs of progress and encourage us when you see them. Work is hard and we need to know that you see and appreciate the effort we’re putting in and the progress we’re making. The appreciation and encouragement you express energizes us.

Be honest with us (and nice about it). When you become aware of something we are doing or not doing that has a negative effect on our work product, please let us know right away. When you communicate it, be nice about it. Don’t speak down to us. It’s better to first encourage us by affirming your appreciation for the good things we do and then share what we need to begin doing or stop doing. It should sound like this: “Tom, I appreciate [this, that and the other thing] about you. I think you would be even more effective if you did this [or refrained from doing this].

Help us grow and gel as a team. Strengthen our team camaraderie and cohesiveness through training and team building. Regularly bring in outside experts who will share practices that will make us better. Set aside time for us to get together to share what we are doing, get to know one another better, have fun and celebrate our progress. As part of this, help us keep in mind the importance of our work by bringing in customers to share their positive stories about how our work made their lives better. Finally, if we have people on our team who are not a good fit to do their jobs well or who are jerks that drag down team spirit, replace them with individuals who strengthen our team.  That will be best for everyone in the long term.

The above 6 practices will boost employee engagement. Ultimately, improving employee engagement is all about developing and maintaining a healthy, effective workplace culture—the predominant attitudes, language and behavior of a group. Strengthening it will pay off through more engaged employees who give greater effort and are more cooperative and collaborative in ways that boost your department’s overall performance.