Employee Engagement - Questions & Answers

This page contains questions asked on the topic of Employee Engagement both during the webinar and via the Have a Question feature.

Q: How do you ensure an engaged employee doesn't fall through the cracks?

A: Make sure to have regularly scheduled 1:1 check-in meetings with your employees to ask them if they're feeling appreciated for the work they do and how it can be continued or improved. You might ask questions to better understand how you can support their engagement and reduce the chances they will leave, such as: What do you look forward to when you come to work each day? What do you like most or least about working here? What keeps you working here? What can I do to best support you? What can I do more of or less of as your supervisor? What might tempt you to leave?  

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Q: How do you identify the employees that are frustrated or disengaged?

A: Gathering feedback from your employees can be done in a variety of ways - conversations in 1:1 check-ins, faculty/staff meetings, individual or team discussions, employee engagement survey, etc. Ask specific questions to get to the source of why someone may be frustrated or disengaged such as:

  • How are we doing when it comes to creating the conditions that foster employee engagement?
  • What are we doing well?
  • Where do we need to do better?

Use the engagement driver questions to prompt discussion on some of this too. Be clear that the purpose of gathering input is to inform development and facilitate continuous improvement, NOT to evaluate you or your team’s performance. The best approach is to be honest and straightforward in seeking and discussing input. You may want to consider your local HR team or third party (consultant) in assisting or facilitating this conversation.

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Q: Do you think an employee is ever beyond help?

A: If someone is detached or disengaged, it may boil down to their role not being a good fit, so explore that with them by asking questions to help them understand how they can contribute to a broader purpose. Is it the work they don't like or are they just not interested? Start there to see if you can get them reinvested in their work. In cases where someone lacks the skills, knowledge, and abilities to be successful and cannot develop those skills on the job (or is not open to developing those skills), engagement and strong performance may not be possible in their current role.

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Q: In an environment where we are being expected to do more with fewer staff, how do you suggest we find the time to make the changes identified in the input process?

A: Change usually comes with a higher workload and fewer resources. For engagement efforts, the best approach is to consider what actions you can take as a team or department to work together in a more efficient, productive way. In other words, make changes that will help you get your work done more effectively and ignore (or de-prioritize) actions that would simply add workload without a clear benefit to your team or department. This may mean addressing one issue that will help your team be successful and leaving other issues alone for now.

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Q: Do you suggest a yearly retreat with your team away from the office?

A: Sure. Just make sure you're doing team building or retreats for the right reasons/objectives which should include addressing strategic priorities and goals, and how the work can accomplish those things and not just for the sake of having a get-together.

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Q: Do you have suggestions for how to get leadership over the fear of communicating to employees around tough topics, including engagement? For example, employee engagement survey results are anticipated to be lower than in 2015. Leadership is nervous about communicating these results and what it may mean.

A: For most of us, feedback is not always easily received, and the idea of change can be difficult, even for experienced supervisors/leaders. They should be aware of their own emotions and responses to the input gathered before sharing informal feedback/survey data with their direct reports and refining an action plan. It’s very normal to experience a range of reactions including shock, anger, resistance, and acceptance. Engagement can be unintentionally derailed if their own reactions to the input causes them to avoid taking action or act negatively. It’s more beneficial when they have the mindset of seeking help when sharing informal feedback/survey data with their direct reports. This frame of mind can prevent the informal feedback/survey data from being presented in a way that may appear defensive or as explaining away unfavorable results. It also shows their team that they are open to hearing possible ideas for action and potential solutions. Remember, engagement data is a snapshot in time and feedback is needed to find areas to improve. 

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Q: How can an employee deal with a supervisor that does not care about employee engagement? What if we have a disengaged supervisor/leadership and we are the frustrated ones?

A: Realistically, this can be a real challenge without a simple answer. However, there are two approaches that may be effective. First, consider what issues, problems, or frustrations are on the mind of this supervisor. Solutions to these issues may motivate this person to pay attention and take action, so consider how you might connect one or more of the engagement drivers to these issues. Then, try to make the case to this supervisor how addressing engagement can make their job easier. Second, the employee engagement survey is an opportunity to have a voice and the expectation is that all supervisors will share those results and have conversations with their respective groups and teams about those results. If you're not seeing that happen in your college/department/unit, start asking questions about when the survey results will be shared and discussed.

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Q: Any ideas on increasing engagement to the overall U of M mission (teaching, research, outreach) for employees in support functions (finance/HR) where their contribution isn't always clear to them?

A: There are a few ways to help employees in support functions see how they contribute to the mission. One approach is to talk about the goals and priorities of the team or unit and focusing on how achieving these goals contribute to teaching, research, and/or outreach. For example, a support function may contribute through helping to make the University a more desirable place to work by helping to recruit and retain talented faculty and staff. Or, a support function may make it easier for people who teach and do research to do their jobs more efficiently or effectively. Another way to look at it is to consider how teaching, research, and/or outreach would be affected if that support function wasn't there or wasn't successful. What would the negative impact be?

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Q: How do you recognize some staff while avoiding having some people feel left out or ignored?

A: Recognition is something that supervisors often struggle with, but many times a simple "thank you" via email, in person, or a group setting means the most. Some people like public recognition and some do not. As a supervisor, it's important to know what your direct reports prefer and recognizing their contributions and appreciating their work based on their preferences. If other people are feeling left out, make sure to recognize even smaller and informal contributions.

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Q: Does celebrating come across as tone-deaf to employees who think there are issues?

A: Celebrating strengths does not mean issues are not also addressed. But before you dive into the issues, it's important to pause and recognize what the team is doing well, so the team can continue to do those things. You don't want those strengths to go away and have even more issues to deal with. If you are concerned about employees seeing a celebration of strengths as "tone-deaf" you might directly address the issue by saying that you know there are issues that need to be addressed, but that there are also good things that need to be recognized and celebrated.

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Q: How do you encourage honest input from employees who are concerned about retaliation or being singled out?

A: It depends on why employees are concerned about retaliation. If it's more of a general skepticism or concern, you can address this by assuring the employees that their candid and direct input is what you want to you hear and that you will use their input to better understand the issues and how they might be addressed. Then, be sure to follow through with this and not become defensive or criticize someone for what they say. The engagement survey itself is confidential and managed by a third-party vendor so no one will know who said what. If there is a history of retaliation or a supervisor has responded to input with defensiveness or worse, then it will be much more difficult to encourage honest input from employees. In that case, the best approach is to ask for input, expect that people will be hesitant at first, and then demonstrate that their input is used productively. Over time, this will restore trust.

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Q: What are best practices for team recognition?

A: The best way to recognize a team's accomplishments is to focus on:

a) the results the team achieved and the positive impact of that achievement on the college, campus, unit, or entire University,

b) how the team worked together to achieve results they could not have achieved individually,

c) the role each person played in the team's success - especially people who were more behind-the-scenes and may not have received public recognition.

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Q: How do you approach engaging employees when culturally they have a different cultural view of engagement?

A: Engagement is about a group of people working toward a common set of goals and priorities. Certainly, cultural differences play a role in this. In general, the best approach is to ask questions and try to understand how an individual employee views common goals and what motivates and inspires them to work toward these goals.

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Q: Once the input, discussion, action process is launched, how long does it typically take to address the issue(s) from the initial conversation to resolution?

A: This varies in general and can take longer than you think. Once a department decides to take on an issue it can be 1-2 years, especially if it's an issue that deals with culture or working together differently, it'll take some time to make improvements to see results. Some simpler issues may take a few months to address.

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Q: How do you handle it when your department receives no results from the engagement survey? This has happened twice to us, and it has made it hard for our department staff to take it seriously.

A: The threshold to get results for the 2017 survey was decreased from 10 to 5 responses which doubles the number of managers/supervisors who could potentially receive results. If your unit doesn't get results, consider having feedback conversations with the team or informal surveys where you ask them some of the same questions from the survey. The survey only tells you so much - you still need to have conversations to really find out more.

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