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Small, but effective: 6 commonly overlooked actions to increase employee engagement

From icebreakers to arguments, here are some of most frequently missed things we forget to do as leaders to encourage our team to be more engaged.

Meaningful work, open communication, a sense of direction… In our heads, we seem to know a lot of what helps maintain employee engagement. However, in practice, keeping our team engaged can be a challenge. We notice teammates zoning out during meetings, missing deadlines, or not bringing up new ideas as often as they used to. How do we course-correct when we notice our employees’ engagement level and energy starting to slip?

Our research — collected from 15,000+ employees in over 25 countries — reveal a few small things that can make a big impact on your team morale. Here are six of the most frequently overlooked actions we can take as leaders to improve employee engagement:

  1. Say what you’re struggling with. We often believe being an effective leader means being stoic and unflappable. However, you can be steady as a leader, while still inviting honesty from others around you. The best way to do this is to go first: If you want to know what others are having a hard time with, share what you’re having a hard time with first.
  2. Ask about cereal. Don’t be afraid to have fun. Great leaders bring levity — not just workload — to their team. Pose a light-hearted question or share a little-known fact about yourself with the team. Believe it or not, even something as seemingly innocuous as breakfast cereal can have a positive impact on your team’s morale.
  3. Argue. It can feel counterproductive, but once you move past the initial discomfort, you’ll soon realize that arguing is a sign that you (and your employees) care. Not only that, but you’ll be presented with more options from which you can make even better decisions as a leader. Don’t shy away from disagreements: Lean into them.
  4. Do a double-take when someone says, “It’s fine,” to you. This one phrase that signals your employee might be disengaged — so if you hear it, perk up your ears. You need to dig more, and get to root of understand if things are truly fine, or if it’s an answer they are defaulting too, because there’s more below the surface.
  5. Remember, you’re the boss. This means that a seemingly casual comment from you might be interpreted as a strict mandate from you team. This means that when you show up to a meeting, people aren’t going to feel as comfortable sharing “real talk” for how things in the company are actually going. The more you’re aware that there’s a power dynamic that exists, the more you can understand the best ways to support and interact with your team.
  6. Don’t skip one-on-one meetings! Yes, they are time-consuming. Yes, you seem to be scheduled at the most inconvenient times (when you’re crazy busy, naturally). Yet, one-on-ones are potentially your most powerful tool as a leader for unearthing potential problems and issues your team my be facing. If you’re unsure where to start, here are some tips to help you make the most of your one-on-ones.

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Written by Claire Lew

CEO of Canopy. My mission in life is to help people become happier at work. Say hi to me on Twitter at @clairejlew.