HR & Management

Five conversations that will help create a truly engaged workforce

6 min read

15 February 2018

Having a truly engaged workforce is fundamental to increasing workplace productivity. Achieving it, however, is both complex and challenging. Here, Nigel Purse, founder of The Oxford Group, reveals five conversations that will help boost motivation and minimise staff turnover.

Without an engaged workforce, a lack of motivation will spread and staff will start to distance themselves from the organisation, its mission and its values. Their commitment to the role and in building a long-term future with the organisation will be limited and they may even seek employment elsewhere.

The trust built based on authentic two-way conversations are central to having an engaged workforce. For this reason, it is vital for employers, particularly managers, to understand the significance of conversations in the workplace to strengthen relationships, increase motivation and minimise staff turnover.

(1) Create strong relationships

Building solid relationships, and therefore trust, with every member of the team is essential if you want an engaged workforce. This conversation is about going beyond the day-to-day functional conversations we have about work. Focussing on what they enjoy doing in their spare time, for example, is a great way to get the ball rolling and show an employee that who they are matters just as much as what they do.

Employers should make sure these conversations happen on a frequent basis and both parties should show a genuine interest in the other and in the topics that personally interest them. Body language is important here, so be sure to hold eye contact. Really listen to what they are saying and react accordingly and appropriately.

(2) Establish mutual expectations

This particular conversation has two key requirements. The first is for managers to be clear with employees about what the business is seeking to achieve, and the second is for employees to establish why these goals matter and what expectations the manager has of the employee with regards to achieving them.

When an individual is unclear on exactly what they are being asked to do and, more importantly, why, they aren’t going to be able to focus on the end result or understand their role in achieving it. In addition, this conversation is great for building a culture of longevity, by encouraging an employee to visualise long-term aims.

(3) Praise good work

Perhaps surprisingly, giving and receiving praise for doing a task well at work is quite rare, yet absolutely critical to maintaining an engaged workforce. In many cases, too much emphasis is placed on “constructive” criticism and giving the employees insight into areas for improvement.

Imagine if the only feedback you ever received was “That was great, but…”, it would be easy to see how over time your motivation and enthusiasm would dwindle. Giving praise when it is due is an essential part of the ongoing dialogue between an employer and their employees and its impact on performance and engagement should not be underestimated.

(4) Address unhelpful behaviour

As mentioned previously, good behaviour and performance should be recognised and rewarded but equally, unhelpful behaviour must also be highlighted and addressed quickly, particularly when it is impacting on people, performance, or is at odds with the culture of the organisation. When an employee’s behaviour is “unhelpful”, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are being aggressive, abusive or disobedient. In fact, they could be harming themselves rather than others.

Allowing them to continue demonstrating this behaviour is just as damaging as the behaviour itself, as it leads others to question the authority of their leaders and managers and their ability to keep troublesome behaviour under control. Once employees lose faith in their leaders and managers, dis-engagement quickly follows.

(5) Talk about the future

Conversations about career goals and aspirations are frequently the “elephant in the room” in workplaces, as many are uncomfortable discussing the reality that they are unlikely to remain with the same organisation for their entire career. Often individuals fear that discussing future plans may hamper progression in their current role and lead to other apparently “more committed” employees gaining promotions at their cost.

It’s not unknown for head-hunters and recruitment agencies to know more about an employee’s career aspirations and plans than their own managers! This is why leaders and managers need to actively discuss the career plans of their staff, giving them the opportunity to reveal where they hope to be in ten years’ time.

By finding out their career progression goals, you will gain the opportunity to shape their individual development plan, giving them insight into where they could be if they decide to stay with the organisation.

Nigel Purse is founder of The Oxford Group


UK employees some of the least engaged in the world

A survey of UK employees in nine regions around the world has found that British staff are some of the least likely to be fully engaged at work.