The way employees relate to their managers is crucial to how they feel about work. An average full-time job takes around 2000 hours per year. What these hours are filled with – conflicts, doubts, anxiety, joy – deeply impacts anyone’s wellbeing.
In essence, a healthy company culture cannot be built or maintained without good leadership.
On a systemic level, the way managers communicate with employees (and each other) is a decisive factor in creating a psychologically safe working environment. An environment where teams and individuals can thrive. Project Aristotle, a study by Google, found that psychological safety was one of five key components found in high-performing teams, along with dependability and clarity.
Admittedly, companies that manage by intimidation and pressure often achieve spectacular results. They factor in the costs of rotation and declining motivation. While I hope that we see less and less of these unhealthy practices in the future, I am not delusional to wish for them to vanish completely.
The job market is rapidly evolving and the younger generations are speaking up, aware of their own needs and priorities. Their collective attitude is creating a ripple effect. Many industries known for unhealthy culture are now struggling to find workers – and to keep them engaged.
So how to engage people in a healthy way?
5 factors improving employee engagement:
Managers who are mindful of their own conditioning and limits are usually able to better control their behaviour. They can stop and rethink their actions before getting back to the subject. And as they don’t abuse their position, the authority they project comes across as authentic. They can achieve this through self-awareness and healthy self-esteem. Meanwhile, the leaders who dissociate from their own problems tend to cover their own doubts with a brash attitude. Their employees are often quick to see through this mask.
2. Believing in the meaningfulness of work
If you and your team genuinely believe that what you do matters, this belief can translate into enthusiastic, inspired work.
Some managers don’t take the time to analyse their own attitude to the projects they lead. It often turns out, for example, that certain tasks or projects are inconsistent with their value system. If this is the case, they should seriously consider changing their job. Otherwise, they may inflict damage on themselves and the rest of the team. A manager’s frustration trickles down on those around them. Employees can sense cynicism and hypocrisy; it affects their engagement.
3. Active listening
Management styles based on collaboration and support cannot exist without active listening. There is more to managing a team than simply assigning and delegating tasks. A good leader has the ability to listen to the needs, problems, and wishes of their team. When we regularly check on our colleagues and make them feel heard, they become less frustrated and less prone to burnout. Active listening is key to building authentic engagement. It also allows the manager to better understand their people and to strengthen relationships at work.
4. Healthy feedback culture
Your assertiveness as a leader is a crucial element of effective feedback. Try to communicate clearly what you need and expect while leaving enough space for your team members’ feelings.
It‘s important that your colleagues never have to guess how to meet your expectations. Establishing clear rules will make it easier for them, and will keep them engaged. What demotivates people is toxic behaviour: manipulation, unclear messages, judgmental remarks, and aggression.
Healthy communication is transparent. It’s oriented on finding solutions rather than blaming or punishing.
5. Ability to cope with difficult situations
It is important to accept that difficult, unexpected situations are a part of work. They can put a strain on the trust and understanding you’ve worked hard to build between you and your team. Or, conversely, they can make your team stronger. A good leader can effectively process their own feelings (as well as those of their coworkers) and de-escalate tension. They don’t avoid “difficult conversations” but rather stay open and transparent, so that their team can go through the hard times together, in a conscious way.
People who receive adequate wages for their work need more than a raise or a bonus to stay motivated – or to stay, at all. The 5 factors listed above do not cover all the areas of leadership. However, in my experience, they are fundamental to increasing employee engagement and reducing turnover. They are the building blocks of a psychologically safe workplace – the only type of workplace that meets the needs of most employees.
About the author
Ola Piotrowicz-Przyluska is a Coach, Tutor, Business Mentor and Trainer at Emplomind. She supports her clients in building assertive attitudes while communicating boundaries and needs in the spirit of nonviolent communication, drawing on her experience of working with people who experienced discrimination, mobbing or dismissal. Her work helps people develop an individual career path, including a leadership path, with less stress, while maintaining work-life balance. Ola is also a Crisis Intervention Specialist certified in Psychological First Aid (PFA). She is currently a part of Emplomind’s team of counsellors & coaches providing safe and anonymous mental health support to employees.