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Sunday, July 18, 2021

Coaching Conversations, July 2021: How to Keep Your Employees Engaged

First of all, an update: I floated a new series of posts here last month that I titled "The WAIT List," using the acronym "WAIT" to stand for "What Am I Talking" about with clients. The content appears to have been well-received... but the title? Not so much. So I'm going for the most basic, but perhaps most descriptive, title. So here's my next "Coaching Conversation." Thanks for reading.

* * * * *

In light of this summer becoming titled "The Great Resignation" by many, I met with two different
groups of managers this past week to talk about some of the many challenges they are encountering as their employees start returning to the office. The list is long: 

  • employers are experiencing remarkable levels of turnover;
  • many workers resent the return to commuting;
  • some feel they have not had any margin between persevering through the pandemic and now facing the return to the office;
  • a lot of parents are not finding reliable childcare;
  • there are several expressing a desire to continue to work remotely - as one manager described it, while working remotely even one day a week was not an option for most at the end of 2019, many employees in 2021 now cannot believe they are "only" being allowed two days a week to work from home; 
  • let's be honest -- some people just want a change.

As managers and leaders, how can we make the return a healthy and positive one? It will require all of us to adjust some of our approaches to leadership. The workplace in 2021 is changing rapidly, and we need to remain agile in order to stay ahead of it all.

Harvard Business Review recently published a very good article titled "The Real Value of Middle Managers." I heartily recommend it. This quote really stayed with me:
Especially as remote and hybrid work takes over — and the distance between employees increases — middle managers are more important than ever... It is time to reunite leadership and management in one concept, and recognize middle managers as CONNECTING LEADERS. (emphasis mine)

I appreciate how the author seeks to reunite the concepts of "manager" and "leader" into one concept, but I want to emphasize what I focused on with the two teams of managers I met with last week: middle managers will need to double-down on relational investment as we move forward. 

Every workplace newsletter and blog and podcast is stating some variation of this reality: employers and managers cannot just focus on project management and operations. Given the incredible tumult of these past eighteen months, and the vulnerability we experienced with one another on a variety of levels, leaders are going to be relied upon to provide coaching, cultivate emotional intelligence, and even offer psychological support at times.

I know, I know... perhaps this is not what you signed up for. But the workplace plays a significant role in most people's lives. Research has shown that employees who feel connected to their organization work harder, stay longer, and motivate others to do the same. People want purpose and meaning from their work. They want to be known for what makes them unique. This is what drives employee engagement. And they want relationships, particularly with a manager who can coach them to the next level: this is who drives employee engagement.

So if you want your employees to remain committed, and not just survive, but thrive, employers will need to devote consistent effort on a few key things:

  • FEEDBACK. Employees will stay if they know they will be recognized for their contributions.
  • PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT. Team members will be energized if they see opportunities for professional growth and career development.
  • TRANSPARENCY. Colleagues will band together if they understand when organizational change happens and why.

On top of all of your other responsibilities, how do you find the time to do this?? Great question. I recommend these 4 steps:
  1. Commit to monthly meetings for your team that are dedicated to professional development.
  2. Embed that time in your schedule: First Fridays? Last Thursdays?
  3. Try to build some fun around that: include coffee and donuts, or a unique location where you will be uninterrupted and able to collaborate in a creative way.
  4. The KEY: make a plan NOW for the coming year!

Professional development can and should come in a variety of forms: special speakers, webinars, articles, podcasts, book clubs, mentor programs, coaching, case studies, off sites...

Last but not least... I believe this plan is most effective if it is also paired with monthly 1:1’s with each team member. This is where you can customize the approach and focus on unique needs and issues. Transactional leadership simply does not work anymore. We have to be committed to building trust over time, and setting up our employees for success.

I have a TON of resources, so feel free to reach out to me if this feels overwhelming. I can't emphasize this enough: Set the schedule and make sure you prepare adequately. Carve out time each month to prepare, and bring variety to your training strategies. And let me know if I can help! Email me at

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