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Managers Are the Secret Sauce to Engaging and Motivating Your Workforce

Kanarys Staff


Ask anyone in the workplace, and they’ll tell you that employee engagement and motivation are essential for any business that wants to succeed. The reason is obvious…engaged and motivated employees are more productive, innovative, and customer-centric. More importantly, they are also more likely to stay with their company, which can save the company money on recruiting and training costs. Yet, employee engagement has been on the decline from 36% in 2020 to 34% in 2021, highlighting the ongoing struggle of companies to get and keep employees engaged.

Keep in mind, the continuing struggles to engage employees are further complicated by today's hybrid and remote work environment, as well as the growing return-to-office movement. So what’s going on? We can tell you that it begins and ends with managers. That shouldn’t come as a surprise because the level of engagement can be traced back to an employee’s relationship with their manager. In other words, managers are the secret sauce and the linchpin to employee engagement, retention, productivity and trust in leadership.

As it turns out, effective training for managers is not a thing at many workplaces. That may sound like hyperbole, but the reality is that most employers don’t provide effective training or guidance that help managers understand how to meet business goals while supporting employees in the right way.

However, there are a number of best practices to create a positive and supportive work experience for all employees, regardless of where they are located.

  1. Communicating matters, communicating frequently matters more. 

One key thing managers need to know is how to communicate well. In fact, how managers speak with employees and how often can go a long way to building employees’ trust and commitment and serves as foundation for everything else. The most effective way to make someone feel connected to an organization is to have a “meaningful” 15-30 minute conversation every week with each direct report to discuss goals, customers and well-being as well as offer recognition. 

  1. Create a culture of trust and respect.

The foundation of any engaged and motivated workforce is a culture of trust and respect. Employees need to feel valued and respected by their managers and colleagues, and they need to trust that their company is ethical and that their leaders are making decisions in the best interests of all. More importantly, employees should feel comfortable speaking up about the impact of big changes at work, as this is key to building trust in leaders. Of the employees Kanarys surveyed, 85.5% feel respected and valued by their immediate manager, whereas 83.2% feel comfortable sharing their concerns with their immediate manager. From being honest and transparent with employees, and giving employees a voice in decision-making to recognizing employees for their contributions, and creating a safe space for employees to share their ideas and concerns, managers play a unique and important role in setting the tone.

  1. Set clear and achievable goals.

Employees need to know what is expected of them and how their work contributes to the overall success of the company. Managers should set clear and achievable goals for their employees and provide regular feedback on their progress. The basics include making sure goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound, but managers should proactively discuss these goals with employees and get their buy-in. And of course, provide regular feedback on progress and make adjustments as needed. Want to create a culture of innovation of experimentation? Part of being an effective manager is being open to new ideas and suggestions and being supportive of employees' needs and challenges.

  1. Provide opportunities for growth and development.

Employees want to feel like they are growing and developing in their careers. Similar to mentors, managers should provide employees with opportunities to learn new skills, take on new challenges, and advance their careers. Whether it’s offering training and development programs to team members or providing opportunities for employees to mentor and be mentored, this is key to creating a culture of learning and development. 

  1. Create a sense of community.

Employees want to feel like they belong within their team and that their work matters, and managers are in a unique position to create and foster a sense of community within their teams by encouraging collaboration, communication, and teamwork, in addition to actively promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Kanarys found that 80.1% of employees feel their immediate manager recognizes the importance of DEIB for success. Aside from working together on daily activities and projects, managers can create opportunities for employees to socialize and collaborate, and celebrate team successes together.

  1. Promote work-life balance and be flexible.

“When do you want it? Yesterday.” Unfortunately, that’s the mentality of the workplace where deadlines are constant and what constitutes success often feels like a moving target, which makes finding a balance between our personal and professional lives really difficult. But, a core requirement today for maintaining engaged and motivated employees is a healthy work-life balance. Willingly or not, managers serve as role models for establishing and practicing that balance. For example, many companies have implemented return-to-office mandates, which have had mixed results on engagement, culture and productivity. While managers may not have the ultimate say in RTO vs remote decisions, managers do have some say in terms of flextime. From caregiving obligations to breaks and vacations, managers can and should set expectations around work hours and availability.

Managers are on the front lines of creating a positive and supportive work environment for all employees, which is essential for a more engaged and motivated workforce. They play a critical role in creating a workplace where employees feel valued, respected, and supported and set the tone for the team, provide feedback, and offer opportunities for growth and development. Employers who want a productive, engaged workforce could do more to train, develop and support those in their managerial ranks.

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