How can organizations improve the engagement of their employees? We define engaged as “emotionally invested in one’s job, co-workers, success of the organization and bringing a certain level of enthusiasm and commitment to the party.”

Supervisors and mid-level managers do not feel they have much influence over what makes employees emotionally invested and committed, such as company policies, pay, benefits changes, staffing levels, business decisions, or communications from above.

Not true. A supervisor — often the immediate boss — is arguably the most important person in the company to the people they supervise.

An important part of the role is answering some universal questions: What’s my job? How am I doing? Am I valued? Where are we going? How do I fit in? How can I help? What’s in it for me?

Equally important: Get your employees actively involved in the design of their work and allow them to question, even challenge, “the way we do things around here.” This is critical when it comes to practices that impact their safety and well-being.

Create dissonance

Effective supervisors encourage debate and disagreement. They want employees to question, to deliberate, and to push back. Weighing the positives and negatives of a decision, sharing conflicting opinions, playing devil's advocate… disagreement is healthy. It’s stimulating. It leads to better decisions.

Give employees latitude in how they get things done. Give the freedom and authority to make decisions. Then hold your employees accountable.

Be on your game

Supervisors focused on achieving production outcomes regularly tell us they don’t have time to “do” engagement. We contend they don’t have the time NOT to do it. Some examples:

• Do not treat employees as a commodity. As a comparison, one store of a national retailer requires their part-timers to be available but does not call them into work until the last minute if needed. A nearby store of a direct competitor schedules their part-timers on a weekly basis, permitting them to plan other activities.

• Be flexible in work life. If possible, adjust hours, assignments, scheduling, etc. to accommodate employees’ changing situations.

• Ensure employees know what is expected of them, how performance is measured, and get regular informal and formal feedback.

• Recognize employees. “Does anybody notice me?”

• Coach new hires. Take personal responsibility for their training, orientation, and adjustment to their new job. Follow up. Do not let others have unknown influence over a new employee’s initial experience and impressions.

• Take interest in your employee’s career development. This does not have to mean promotion. It means learning. It means knowing more now than before. Temporary assignments, projects, special duties are often within your control. Have career conversations with employees. Give employees the opportunity to grow and develop.

• Provide purpose and meaning to employees’ work. Show them the bigger picture. An employee is not here just to put a lug on a nut, but to help build the best vehicle on the road so families can travel safely, economically, and reliably.

• To the best of your ability, provide a clear vision of where the organization is going. You may have to do some investigating here. Surely, you can give the clearest picture of where your department is going and make sure each employee understands their role in that success.

• Get to know your employees and what motivates them as individuals. They are multi-dimensional. Many supervisors know only the job holder.

• Address poor performance. Supervisors generally wait too long to take corrective action. Better performing employees complain that nothing happens to marginal performers.

• Get feedback as well as give it. Help your employees get their jobs done. Give them the required training, tools, support and guidance. Run interference for them with other departments.

• Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it — from your co-workers, your manager, the human resources department or anyone else who can provide sound advice. This isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a demonstration of your own engagement and willingness to grow.

• Control your own behavior. You set the tone. Live the safe practices you preach. Treat all employees with dignity and respect. When you became a supervisor you gave up the right to lose your temper, to talk about other employees, to demean employees, to play favorites, to fail to represent management. You have control over how you interact with your subordinates on an individual and group basis, over the environment in your department, and over your own attitude and relationships with co-workers.