Disengaged employees cost U.S. companies $450 to $550 billion in lost productivity each year, according to Gallup. That seems like an astounding figure until you consider 70 percent of American workers are either not engaged (52 percent) or actively disengaged (18 percent). No wonder so many companies are focused on increasing employee engagement. According to research, the solution is to improve managers’ communication skills.
Communication is the most important skill area to managerial success, according to 83 percent of respondents in a 2016 ATD study. Managers put strategic plans into action, secure employee buy-in on company strategies, ensure day-to-day operations run smoothly, and communicate progress up and down the organization. The ability for managers to effectively communicate is critical.
As much as 70 percent of the variance in team engagement can be traced to the manager’s influence, according to Gallup. Here’s the rub, though: A Society for Human Resource Management study found that 58 percent of employees say it’s very important to have a good relationship with their manager, yet only 40 percent of employees actually do.
What can managers do to increase employee engagement? Here are three recommendations.
1. Increase interactions.
Employees were three times more likely to be engaged if managers held regular meetings with their direct reports, according to a recent Gallup poll.
“Great leadership is practiced one conversation at a time,” according to Tacy M. Byham and Richard S. Wellins. In fact, research shows that “organizations that value interactions are 3.5 times more likely to have a strong leadership bench and twice as likely to be among the top financially performing companies.”
It doesn’t stop with conversations, though. The more time spent between boss and employee, the deeper the connection and the more engaged the employee. According to Mark Murphy, “Most people spend only half the time they should be spending with their boss,” and people who spend a recommended six hours per week with their supervisor are “29% more inspired, 30% more engaged, 16% more innovative and 15% more intrinsically motivated than those who spend only one hour per week.”
2. Deliver frequent feedback.
Effective communication, including targeted, actionable feedback, can build awareness and action toward better employee performance. Unfortunately, there’s a disconnect between manager and employee expectations. About nine out of 10 managers have avoided giving constructive feedback to their employees fearing they’ll react poorly, but employees know achieving career success is difficult if they’re not receiving enough constructive feedback, writes Murphy.
Murphy’s research also finds that only 29 percent of employees say they “always” know whether their performance is where it should be. Meanwhile, 39 percent of employees “respond to constructive criticism by jumping in and correcting underlying problems.”
3. Change the way managers communicate.
Increasing interactions and delivering frequent feedback requires a sophisticated approach to communication. Every time managers communicate, whether it’s providing feedback in a one-on-one conversation, participating in a meeting or delivering a formal presentation, they always must have a specific objective in mind. What do they want their audience to think, feel or do after they deliver their message?
With that objective in mind, managers should select a strong and specific intention – a one-word verb (e.g., excite, motivate, challenge, persuade, etc.) – to inform how they deliver their message in pursuit of that objective. When managers use a strong intention, their audience should see it clearly in their body language, vocal dynamics, gestures, facial expressions and so forth. Without a specific intention that is in line with their objective, the best their message will be is ambiguous.
Every work conversation is either building a relationship or ending a relationship, according to Brandon Smith of The Workplace Therapist. The best managers realize they need to build relationships across every level of the organization. By employing effective communication skills to excite, motivate, challenge or persuade an employee, managers can increase employee engagement and subsequently achieve the company’s desired results.