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Don't Wait for the Engagement Survey: Measure Employee Satisfaction Now (Newsweek)

Relying solely on your organization's engagement surveys can leave you a step behind.

How taking short vacations can improve your well-being at work

(Originally published in Newsweek. Photo: JACOBLUND/Getty)

After trending up over the previous decade, employee engagement is on the decline. Only 32 percent of employees are engaged in their work, while 18 percent are actively disengaged, according to Gallup's 2023 State of the Global Workplace report. The report also notes that lack of employee engagement is a $8.8 trillion problem, equal to 9 percent of global GDP.

While many companies measure employee engagement through annual surveys, this frequency is most suitable for benchmarking and strategic planning. To effectively preempt and address emerging issues before your talent becomes disillusioned or departs, a more proactive approach is essential.

Consider sports teams. Winning coaches don't just assess their team's performance annually; instead, they continuously monitor and communicate about challenges and opportunities.

Similarly, as a business leader, you should frequently gauge team sentiment and adjust as needed. This ongoing attention shows your team that their well-being and motivation aren't just occasional concerns but consistent priorities. This helps foster higher productivity and retention.

Relying solely on your organization's engagement surveys can leave you a step behind in understanding team members and team dynamics. Instead of waiting for survey outcomes, tap into the continuous pulse of your team by doing these three things regularly:

1. Sharpen Your Observation Skills

If you're keen on gauging the engagement levels within your team, use your observation skills.

For instance, pay careful attention during team meetings and group discussions: Actively engaged employees will typically demonstrate enthusiasm, participate freely and show genuine interest. On the other hand, those less engaged might stay silent or appear disinterested.

What patterns do you notice across your team members? Are there any individuals who used to participate actively but have recently become more reserved?

Here's a real example I've seen in action. Karl, a non-profit CEO, noticed a few small changes in one of his former team members: reduced participation in team meetings and low mood.

Karl proactively addressed the situation and was able to rectify the issue that had started to degrade his team member's motivation and commitment to the organization.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, you might say "I've noticed that you're not speaking up as much at team meetings and I just wanted to check in. Are you doing okay? Is there anything I can do to help?"

In addition to group dynamics, keep an eye on work patterns. Are team members taking frequent, unplanned leaves? Is there a change in their usual work hours or productivity levels? If you notice any of these trends, these could also signal issues related to engagement or motivation.

Finally, take note of your team's participation in optional events or activities. Participation in these non-mandatory activities can provide insights into your team's morale and members' sense of belonging. Engaged members often show greater investment in team-building exercises and social events, reflecting a deeper connection with the team and the organization.

By consistently applying these observational strategies, you can proactively identify and address engagement issues, ensuring your team remains motivated and cohesive.

2. Ask Your Team Open-Ended Questions About Their Roles

Amid the busyness of the day, one-on-one meetings with team members can easily become a rundown of project updates. However, it's also essential to connect personally. Allocate time in these discussions to genuinely understand their feelings about their role. This will strengthen trust and offer a direct window into their engagement levels.

The questions you ask can illuminate an employee's level of engagement. Pose questions like, "What aspects of your role energize you, and which ones don't?" Or delve deeper with, "What's one thing you'd change about the projects you're working on?"

By understanding your team member's energizers and pain points, you can gauge how invested they feel in their projects and address any issues.

You might also ask, "Are there any skills or experiences you'd like to gain in the next few months?" If your employee is looking for growth opportunities, this can be a sign of engagement.

Asking your team these questions, backed by genuine curiosity and openness, can offer invaluable insights. The objective isn't a formalized process but a consistent and open dialogue. While you may not have solutions for every concern, being aware gives you a proactive edge to address potential issues before they escalate.

3. Customize Your Leadership to Bring Out the Best in Each Team Member

Not even the most dazzlingly adept cooks among us would attempt to use a single kitchen utensil to create every culinary masterpiece. Likewise, there isn't a one-size-fits-all leadership style for engaging each team member. Effective leadership is tailored, and that requires an intimate understanding of each individual on your team.

Ideally, you should know each team member's personal and professional aspirations, values, motivators, strengths, preferred forms of recognition, working style and developmental needs. Recognizing these nuances allows you to fine-tune your leadership style to each team member and boost their job satisfaction and engagement.

Truly exceptional leaders maintain a detailed understanding of their team—consider using a spreadsheet to monitor these essential insights for each individual.

And never forget: the key to a successful team lies in the well-being and engagement of your members. Observing, understanding and adapting your leadership is the key. Don't wait for the formal survey; proactively gauge engagement and address concerns when they're most actionable.

Dina  Denham Smith

With daily fires to fight and limited space to think, I understand how the pressures rob your clarity. As a certified executive coach, I help senior leaders and their teams gain fresh perspective, confidence and new capabilities that accelerate their success. Work with Dina


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