Are your employees engaged? Or are you missing a signal staring right at you?

Grace has complied with my request for ‘down’ and ‘stay’ but upon a closer look at her facial expression, she isn’t that pleased about it. The glare in her eyes and the ears pulled back are subtle signs, but are telling. Managers can’t make everyone happy all the time, but you should acknowledge and explore any hint of dissatisfaction. It allows you to uncover potentially valid reasons for that feeling, as well as provides the opportunity to elaborate on the reasons for your decision. When people feel that they are listened to (even if they don’t get their way) and cared about, they will remain engaged.

Managers can be oblivious to the reality of how their staff really feels. If the signs aren’t hitting them squarely between the eyes (and sometimes even when they are), managers can be so fixated on their own story that they think everyone is happy, when in fact, they aren’t.

I see it all the time, where managers don’t pay attention to the signs right in front of them. There are certainly many instances when employees don’t share how they are really feeling, obviously making it more difficult to be aware of any dissatisfaction. Their silence might be a result of lack of assertiveness, or fear of reprimand for speaking out. In other cases, an employee may make a diplomatic attempt to talk about tough issues, but the message gets watered down and missed. And on other occasions, an employee may become more direct, but still managers stay in their own world and either ignore or miss clues that would help them have a much more accurate view of the environment.

No matter how overt or subtle the signs, I believe they exist. It’s your job as a manager to find them.

In my opinion, the best managers are the ones that understand the dynamics of the team — and deal with them. The action doesn’t always have to make everyone happy, as long as it’s fair to all.

What’s the impact if you aren’t paying attention to the true level of engagement in your workforce? Loss of productivity, low morale, less loyalty, and high frustration that leads to turnover, to name just a few. I’m sure you can think of others, especially if you happen to be working within a culture that lacks engagement.

So what can you do?

First, listen. My last post touched on this, but I don’t think we can ever put too much emphasis on it. A manager just has to make this a priority. At the very least, it allows your employees to know you care. But you will benefit from the knowledge you get from everyone — if you are truly listening.

Second, look for signs in everyday communications. When people bring more — or less — of themselves to the work, it is a sign. Are they offering opinions? Are they happy and involved? Or are they just going through the motions? What is underneath these signals?

This is another time I asked Grace to sit and stay. This time, I get the impression that she’s not unhappy being there, but she’s very curious about what’s next, and perhaps even anxious about it. The longer we leave a person in an position where they are unclear or unsure, the more stressful and less engaged they become to the work and to the organization.

Third, be responsible for understanding the workplace climate. It is your job as a manager to know what is going on with your group. Turnover should never be a surprise.

Fourth, involve a third-party in the process to give you an objective view. Have someone trusted, perhaps a peer, an HR manager, an outside source, or a 360 multi-rater feedback tool to help you see things you haven’t been open to before. Saying that someone has not told you is not an acceptable excuse.

None of us are perfect at reading the signals of others. But when we put our focus there, and employ tools to help us, we do a much better job at it. Let me know if I can help.

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  1. JP Carlos on August 2, 2012 at 11:58 pm

    When leaders fail to see what’s really going on with their subordinates, problems can escalate in no time. Whether it’s completely disregarding employee feelings or just lack of sensitivity, leaders must realize the impact of knowing the workplace climate and addressing the needs immediately.

    The suggestions are helpful only if the leader is truly willing to take action.

    • Robin on August 3, 2012 at 9:09 am

      Excellent point, JP. I completely agree that the leader must be willing to take action. Thanks for expanding on the post in that way, it’s very helpful and I appreciate your input!

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