Leadership and Management

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Engaging with the disengaged

Staff motivation can be a challenge across the board, but there are ways to boost morale and provide a happier working environment.

Last updated: 25 Apr 2019 5 min read

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Disengagement costs the UK economy £340bn every year. Employees who are engaged in the workplace are more likely to be happier and fulfilled. As research carried out by the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick has shown, happy workers are also 12% more productive.

So how do you go about ensuring that your staff are engaged? First you need to scrap the assumption that happiness is about beanbags and free snacks.

While these are nice things to have in the office and can play a part in boosting employee engagement, you should instead focus on understanding the different ways employees like to work, says Paul Newman, founder of Insitu Digital, an agency that provides corporate clients with bespoke digital learning solutions.

“Spend time getting to know your team and how they like to work. Find out how they organise their workload – for example, do they prefer talking tasks through or receiving detailed emails? By seeing working life from their perspective, it’s easier to see the small changes that can be made, which can lead to staff being more engaged,” says Newman.

Individual working styles

By identifying and managing the different working styles, Newman has found that it fosters a sense of ownership and value in the workplace. As a result, employees are more self-motivated and even likely to inspire others, creating a positive working environment, he says.

Making employees feel like they own the work they’re doing is important, otherwise they’ll sleepwalk through each day and see their work as more of an obligation, says Samit Patel, who runs Joopio, a marketing firm with a focus on B2C technology and hardware that helps firms at various stages in their product life cycle.

“Getting them [the employees] to take ownership of a project also creates accountability. They will want the work they do to succeed and will strive to make sure they achieve this,” he says.

Mix things up

While making employees accountable for what they do can push them to take pride in their work and keep them engaged, it can also help to move them around to make the work varied and perhaps more interesting.

“Spend time getting to know your team and how they like to work. Find out how they organise their workload – for example, do they prefer talking tasks through or receiving detailed emails?”Paul Newman, founder, Insitu Digital

“Simply giving employees the same job again and again won’t inspire confidence and won’t motivate them,” says Patel, speaking from experience of managing his team of more than a dozen. “We’ve found that for employees to be working at their capacity, they shouldn’t be spending too long on a certain area, particularly boring and robotic admin tasks.”

For new businesses and start-ups trying to get off the ground and gain early traction, or those businesses that find themselves running on skeleton staff, employees are likely to find themselves taking on duties outside of their role, and working long hours. During such periods, energy and passion can be sapped.

Incentivise staff

To prevent levels from dropping and to keep employees engaged, it’s worth considering offering them some sort of incentive. This can be an effective way of rewarding their hard work, making them feel valued and helping the business achieve its growth ambitions, says Chaz Englander, co-founder and CEO of Fat Lama, a peer-to-peer rental marketplace.

"We’re a relatively small team with big ambitions and a mission to rethink the future of ownership. Offering employees meaningful equity has been a way of making sure that the whole team is invested in this same vision,” Englander says.

Whether you’re able to offer employees a financial incentive or not, it’s essential that they’re reminded of how they’re contributing to the company’s overall strategy, says Fela Hughes, co-founder and head of growth at Buengo, a tech start-up that has built a new fundraising app.

“It might be a cliché, but sharing is caring, and for us this means having a road map drawn up on a wall-sized whiteboard,” he adds. “Everyone can see it and contribute and knows what they’re working towards.”

Key steps to boost employee engagement:

  • Understand what makes your employees tick. There’s no one-size-fits-all way of working. A positive workplace environment should be amenable and embrace various working styles.
  • Create ownership and accountability. This should allow employees to feel more connected and responsible for the work they do.
  • Mix up the work you offer employees. A range of roles and responsibilities can help prevent staff becoming too comfortable or seeing themselves as just another cog in the machine and becoming disengaged.
  • Ensure there’s a collective vision. All employees need to understand what the company’s goals are, both in the short- and long-term, and what value they will be adding to the business.
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Leadership and Management