Entrepreneurs

7 Strategies to Create Long-Term Sustainable Team Engagement

Based on my own long experience in business, team satisfaction, engagement, and productivity continues to be a challenge.

According to consistent feedback over the past several years, even in the best companies, employees seem stuck at less than 40 percent happy and “fully engaged.” That’s a huge opportunity for productivity in your business, as well as your team well-being.

Yet I still see many companies focusing on what I believe are ineffective approaches to turning this productivity challenge around, including stricter processes, more metrics, and financial incentives to improve motivation.

I believe the real solution is more aligned with the strategies outlined in a new book, “Put Happiness To Work,” by Eric Karpinski, who has been successfully bringing positive psychology tools and cultural transformations to the workplace for many years.

He puts the need and focus on employee happiness through the following initiatives:

1. Provide authentic appreciation for positive results.

Authentic appreciation means regular and personalized expression of gratitude in real time. This is more powerful than any bonus or reward at the end of a period. My advice is for you to make it a habit to provide positive feedback to someone daily, and often in the presence of team peers.

This strategy is particularly important, and particularly challenging, in today’s world of team members working remotely, where it’s easy for them to be “out of sight and out of mind.” Remember that feedback is only a text or phone call away, and much appreciated.

2. Improve team social connections to drive happiness.

Everyone is wired for social connection and has a fundamental need to feel like they belong before they will fully engage. Make sure your employees feel psychologically safe with you. Your challenge is then to connect personally with each, and foster that connection among team members.

A good social connection usually begins with an initiative by you to reach outside of the work environment, and talk about common interests, such as sports and family. This shows that you care about them as a person, and allows you to focus on positives.

3. Acknowledge stress and proactively provide support.

By recognizing and explaining the value of a stressful project, you can make your team feel important and positive, rather than fearful and negative. You shift their mindset and yours to achieving success and productivity, rather than surviving a threat. The result is real engagement and results.

4. Help people uncover and apply their strengths.

Most people don’t recognize their own strengths, and need your help, as well as strength assessment tools, to capitalize on them. Playing to your strengths improves your overall engagement and productivity, as well as satisfaction and happiness. Strive to practice strength-focused leadership.

5. Show people the meaning and purpose of their work.

Every study shows that people are really engaged in their work, if they feel that it has value and purpose. You must start this process by sharing your own values and priorities, and explaining how you see the work values relate to the bigger picture of customer satisfaction and a better future for all.

6. Embrace negative emotions as a prelude to positives.

Everyone has negative emotions in new environments or when pushing the limits, so acknowledge these as necessary. Help your team members eliminate uncalled-for or gratuitous emotions, caused by internal fears, and show compassion and support to get real engagement.

7. Enhance intrinsic motivation through coaching.

Coaching works both at the employee-manager level and the peer-to-peer level to connect people to resources that can help them believe in themselves, connect to resources, and find internal motivation. Getting peers to help others also is a great source of satisfaction and engagement.

When adopting and rolling out the strategies outlined here, it is important to focus on one at a time, rather than overwhelming people with too much all at one time. Remember that you have to be a good role model, reinforce the progress along the way, and never forget to recognize and appreciate the efforts of every individual.

With that, I am confident that you will shortly see improvements in individual and team engagement, as well as productivity. Maybe more importantly, you will see a greater sense of satisfaction and happiness in the workplace. Life is too short to spend a major portion of it just plodding along on the treadmill we now call work.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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