The Most Effective Manager Action for Improving Employee Engagement

Using the data provided by thousands of people leaders within our employee voice platform, we've ascertained the manager actions that have the highest positive impact on employee engagement—and how to ensure that impact is sustainable.

Managers are faced with the difficult task of meeting business objectives, while also managing the expectations of their team. This requires a long list of skills and abilities, including communication, coaching, collaboration, and decision making. Knowing the right manager action to take in every situation, big or small, can feeling overwhelming.

While there is little debate over which skills are most important in the modern workplace, it’s still difficult to understand how they translate into action on a daily basis. For managers, that means spending time trying to figure out which actions have the biggest impact.

To help answer this question, we decided to analyze data from thousands of managers and their teams in the Workday Peakon Employee Voice platform to find out what really works. As a result, we were able to identify a number of actions that result in long-term improvements to engagement scores.

We’ve highlighted some of the most impactful recommendations below, but if you’d rather see all of the most effective manager actions in one place you can download our report on the relationship between manager action and employee engagement.

Start With a Weekly Commitment to Your Team

In order to be successful, managers need to establish trust with their team, which is impossible without an open line of communication. That’s why the number one action managers can take to improve their team’s engagement is schedule bi-weekly one-on-ones, whether that’s remotely or in the office.

Managers that introduced one-on-ones as a result of Workday’s recommended actions were able to see a one point increase in their management support scores within three months. Over such a short timeline, that’s a significant upturn.

Manager Action: “Start Hosting Bi-weekly One-on-ones”

Set up a recurring calendar invite for bi-weekly one-on-one meetings with each member of your team that last for at least half an hour.

One-on-ones are an opportunity for managers to make sure everyone in their team is working on the right things, to help remove blockers, and to explain why that work matters. It’s also an opportunity for employees to ask questions and raise concerns.

It takes time to prepare for one-on-ones, but it also means less time spent on ad-hoc conversations and email communication throughout the week. And more importantly, it shows employees that you care about their professional success and overall happiness.

In addition to making sure employees feel more supported, one-on-ones are the perfect platform to improve other aspects of engagement. This makes them one of the most valuable tools managers can use to build an engaged and high-performing team.

Helping Employees to Prioritize Their Workload

At its most basic level, a one-on-one is an opportunity to help team members prioritize their workload. Without context, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by a to-do list that keeps growing, especially when everything has the same level of importance and urgency.

Manager Action: “Help Employees Avoid Competing Priorities”

Assist employees in prioritizing work by providing clear information on the importance or urgency of tasks.

While heavy workloads can be a big problem for engagement, it’s also our perception of our workload that can impact how quickly we burn out. The most impactful action managers can take to address this is to help everyone in their team stay focused on a single priority.

Single priorities not only help to keep long-term projects in perspective, they ensure that everyone in the team is working towards something that will have a measurable impact on business objectives—instead of putting out fires and reacting to urgent requests.

Providing Quality Feedback on a Weekly Basis

Feedback is important for two reasons: it’s an effective way to give employees praise and recognition for their work, and it helps to improve performance. Without one-on-ones, feedback is often inconsistent and lacks context, which can contribute to disengagement.

The best kind of feedback not only happens on a regular basis, it includes specifics about what someone did well and what they can do to improve in future. This keeps employee motivation high and provides ongoing opportunities to develop new skills and abilities.

Manager Action: “Provide Contextual Feedback”

Ensure that completed work always receives feedback that enables team members to understand what’s been done well, and, when relevant, what could be done better in the future.

Providing employees with regular feedback has an immediate impact on recognition scores and leads to significant improvements over the course of a six-month period.

Discussing Growth and Development More Than Once a Year

Growth isn’t something that happens once a year. We encounter learning experiences on a daily basis at work, which is why it’s essential for managers to make growth an ongoing discussion with their team.

A weekly conversation on growth alone is enough to increase engagement, as it shows employees that you care about their professional success. It also makes it easier for managers and their teams to act on growth and development opportunities. For example, an upcoming project that would result in someone being exposed to a new part of the business.

Manager Action: “Discuss Growth in One-on-ones”

Regularly refer back to growth plans in one-on-one meetings and review the progress made. Even if no progress has been made since the last meeting, it is important to keep growth plans top of mind.

Making growth part of an ongoing conversation leads to a sustained uplift in how employees perceive growth opportunities. These discussions are also the perfect way to identify the growth needs of individuals within a team, and start creating a formalized growth plan.

Some Actions Have a Bigger Impact Than Others

One-on-ones, regular feedback, and focusing on single priorities are some of the most effective actions that managers can take to improve the engagement of their team, but there are many more that can have an immediate, and long-term impact on engagement scores.

A prime example is the fact that something as simple as saying “Hello” to your team in the morning, and asking them about their weekend can result a significant increase in engagement. Others, such as task tracking, can have the opposite effect, so it’s worth knowing which actions managers should focus on in order to be more effective.

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