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Best Practices to Keep Direct Reports Engaged

Imagine this: you have a top-performing direct report on your team who consistently reaches their goals and meaningfully contributes to your team’s success. They go out of their way to make your job as a manager easier, consistently bringing you new ideas and offering to step up and run with projects as needed. But you also have a team member who does the bare minimum to get by, often showing up late, not contributing to meetings, and occasionally badmouthing you to colleagues. This is the difference between an engaged employee and a disengaged employee.

Employee engagement describes the level of enthusiasm an employee feels about working on your team and at your company. While an engaged employee will go above and beyond in their work, an actively disengaged employee may display negative behaviors that affect your other team members and your team’s performance. 

Employee engagement is crucial for your team’s success—and you alone have the most significant impact on building engagement among your direct reports.

Importance of building engagement with direct reports

Your team members are your organization’s greatest asset. Taking care of them boosts engagement and offers a host of other benefits.

Boosts motivation and morale

Engaged employees are often more motivated to perform their best and more committed to your organization’s success. And when some of your direct reports display high levels of motivation, their enthusiasm can inspire other team members to adopt a similar mindset and boost team morale. 

Promotes innovation and creativity

Engaging your team by providing a safe space for experimentation and rewarding innovative thinking can boost creative problem-solving and drive continuous improvement within your team. Highly motivated team members who feel supported and encouraged are more willing to take calculated risks and explore new ideas. 

Improves employee well-being

Investing in employee engagement initiatives can help support your team members both professionally and personally. For example, committing to work/life balance helps ensure that your team members have the time they need to get their work done while still taking care of themselves. It’s no surprise that companies with high engagement see 66 percent higher employee well-being.

Improves employee retention

Teams with high levels of employee engagement see 18-43 percent less employee turnover than teams with low engagement levels.

Fostering engagement with direct reports is a significant way to improve employee retention and maintain continuity within your team. This helps you save time and money associated with recruitment and training while contributing to a stable and high-performing workforce.

Reduces absenteeism

Engaged employees tend to be satisfied employees who are less likely to miss work without good reason. Gallup found that teams with high employee engagement levels reported 81 percent lower absenteeism than those with low engagement levels.

Improves employee productivity and profitability

The many benefits of employee engagement—from increased motivation, innovation, and well-being to lower turnover and absenteeism—all contribute to more successful teams and organizations. Highly engaged teams see 18 percent higher productivity and 23 percent higher profitability.

New manager’s role in employee engagement

Despite the importance of employee engagement, only 23 percent of employees worldwide fall in the “engaged” category.  

Managers have a crucial role in improving employee engagement—and maintaining it among their team members. In fact, Gallup found that 70 percent of the variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager

Building employee engagement requires continuous, intentional effort to get it right. Here are some best practices to build and nurture employee engagement as a new manager:

Starting with a positive candidate experience

First impressions during the recruitment process set the stage for employee engagement. A slow, cumbersome, or poor experience can leave new hires feeling disconnected or dissatisfied from the beginning. However, a standout candidate experience can help new hires start their employment journey with enthusiasm and engagement.

It’s crucial to make timely decisions at each stage in the hiring process, help job seekers feel comfortable and welcome, and answer candidate questions. These courtesies set the tone for the employee experience that follows and can lead to higher levels of engagement as new employees join your team.

Establishing clear expectations

Employees who strongly agree they’ve had conversations about their goals and successes with their manager in the last six months are 2.8x more likely than other employees to be engaged

It’s important to set clear expectations with your direct reports early and revisit them often. This means defining and discussing goals, roles, and responsibilities during the employee onboarding process and during regular check-ins. Explain how your team member’s work contributes to your team’s goals—and to broader organizational goals.

Clear expectations help your direct reports understand what they’re working toward and how they’re being assessed. This empowers your team members to take ownership of their goals and enables them to contribute to your team’s success.

Building trust and relationships

Take the time to get to know your team members and show genuine interest in their professional success and personal well-being. 

Regular one-on-ones are ideal for discussing progress toward goals, giving and receiving employee feedback, and troubleshooting workplace issues. Practice active listening, show empathy, and take action as needed so your team members recognize that you have their best interests at heart. For example, an employee who’s not reaching their goals may need more realistic expectations rather than a performance improvement plan. Take the time to understand the situation so you can come up with the best solution.

It’s also important to be available for more casual conversations, whether in person or through a digital communication tool. Make it a point to reach out regularly for a variety of occasions. For example, you might invite your direct report to lunch to celebrate their work anniversary or reach out on Slack when you know their child has been homesick.

Putting in the effort to build relationships and trust with your direct reports can make them more likely to be engaged and committed to their work.

Encouraging growth and development

Investing in your team members’ success makes them more motivated to excel and contribute positively to the team. 

Learn about your team members’ career goals, strengths, and areas for improvement so you can create a development plan that helps each of them reach their full potential. Employee development activities may include online learning courses, formal education, mentorship, and coaching to help them enhance their skills and advance their careers. Gallup found that strengths-based learning can result in up to 23 percent higher employee engagement.

Encourage your team members to pursue internal mobility opportunities within your organization—even if it’s not on your team. Helping your team members visualize their future with your company can help them feel valued and inspire them to put in extra discretionary effort to go above and beyond in their work.

Creating a positive work environment

A positive work environment helps your team members feel valued and included, boosting morale and promoting engagement.

Create a positive atmosphere for your direct reports by:

  • Promoting work/life balance. Encourage your team members to take the time they need to handle their personal responsibilities and activities outside of work. You can do this by setting reasonable goals, offering flexible work options, and respecting your team members’ time off.
  • Recognizing team members. Acknowledging and celebrating achievements motivates employees and fosters a positive work environment. Recognize individual and team accomplishments and advocate for your direct reports to be rewarded with raises and promotions as appropriate.
  • Prioritizing mental health and employee well-being. Promote your workplace wellness programs and encourage your team members to take advantage of them. You might even offer wellness benefits that are unique to your team, such as a team-building event at a yoga studio or an ergonomics consultation for new team members.
  • Being intentional about inclusivity. More than half (52 percent) of employees would be more engaged at work if their employer improved Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEI&B). Foster a team culture where everyone is respected and valued for their unique perspectives, ideas, and experiences—and advocate for DEI&B at the organizational level as well.
  • Encouraging collaboration and team building. Promote a positive work environment by encouraging cross-functional collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and teamwork. Effective collaboration enhances engagement by fostering a sense of belonging and collective purpose.

Empowering through delegation and autonomy

Delegating tasks and granting autonomy empowers your team members to make decisions and take ownership of their work. When employees have the authority to make choices and meaningfully contribute to projects, they feel valued and trusted by their managers. This empowerment instills a sense of pride and responsibility, leading to increased engagement and motivation to excel in their role.

Delegation may also provide opportunities for your direct reports to develop new skills and expand their capabilities. Challenging tasks and projects encourage growth and learning, boosting competence and supporting career growth. Employees who are given autonomy to tackle new assignments will have more opportunities to take initiative, seek out learning opportunities, and develop professionally, leading to greater engagement with their work.

Leading by example

Your actions and behaviors set the tone for the rest of your team. For example, publicly recognizing your team members’ achievements will encourage them to recognize their peers. Taking time out of your busy day for professional development demonstrates the value of continuous learning. And leaving early to catch your child’s school play shows your team that it’s ok to have work-life balance.

Modeling desired behaviors and values helps clarify expectations and standards of behavior on your team, setting a benchmark for your direct reports to follow. This clarity fosters a sense of alignment and cohesion among team members, leading to greater engagement as everyone understands the expected norms and values.

Engaging your team members is a worthwhile effort

Building and maintaining employee engagement requires intentional effort and a genuine commitment to supporting your team members—and it’s well worth it. Investing in increased employee engagement not only enhances individual and team performance but also contributes to a positive company culture and long-term success. Embrace your role as a catalyst for engagement and strive to create an environment where every team member feels valued, empowered, and inspired to excel.

Want to learn how an all-in-one learning platform can help you improve employee engagement? Contact us to schedule a free demo.

Complete the form for a custom demo.

Jen Dewar

WorkRamp Contributor

Jen Dewar is a marketing consultant in HR technology, focusing on developing educational content for HR professionals and recruiters. She is passionate about diversity and inclusion, lifelong learning and development, and treating people like people throughout candidate and employee experiences. Outside of work, you can find Jen snowboarding in Tahoe, enjoying a glass of wine in Sonoma, or hanging out at home with her family.

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