You keep hearing that “engagement” is critical to the health of your business. Employees who contribute actively and enthusiastically to the strategic mission of the company are essential to its success. Without that enthusiasm, you may fall short of your objectives and be forced to go back to the drawing board. That’s why you’ve found new ways to gather input from your staff, held some new office events, maybe called in a consultant who can help you inspire them to new heights.

But is that what really needs to be done? In the minds of your staff, that mandatory quarterly happiness survey may be one more minor annoyance amid an untold number of larger annoyances. If you want to prescribe a treatment, you need to understand the disease first; you may be applying a Band-Aid when the problem requires a vaccine. Here are some questions to ask before you start implementing your engagement strategy:

1. Are you acknowledging your employees’ successes?

One thing many disengaged employees say is that they never hear from their manager when they do something right, but they always get feedback when they do something wrong. If an employee has a poor sense of what will make their manager happy, they’ll be less invested in trying to do so. “Good job!” may be the most vital two-word phrase you’re not using enough. You don’t need to write Certificates of Excellence for every occasion, but you do need to let your staff know when they’re on the right track.

2. How much gossip is in the office?

It’s a pretty simple process: If multiple employees dislike the same manager, they’ll talk about it. Then they’ll feel free to talk about other colleagues they don’t like. Then those negative feelings will impact their ability to relate to those managers and colleagues they don’t like, and the quality of their work will decline. Your job is to keep your ear to the ground for any conflicts that need resolving, for the good of everyone’s output.

3. Do you make employees feel welcome when they seek advice?

Almost nobody is so talented that they’ll never feel the need to ask for help – and if someone tells you otherwise, don’t believe them. Answering a question from an employee may take a few minutes out of your day, and that can be annoying. But you should never belittle anyone for not understanding a business situation perfectly. You are the manager because someone trusted you to teach the staff. Be a teacher, not an overlord.

4. What do you value more: processes or results?

Employees are smarter than many managers give them credit for. If they find a way to do their job more effectively, they should feel free to put it to good use. But if your immediate reaction is to stick to the original method because “We’ve always done it this way,” you are sending the message that you don’t value creativity or initiative. Let your employees teach you something once in a while.

5. Are your employees always on the hunt for something else?

If staff members are cutting out of work early or taking sick days more often than usual, they may secretly be interviewing for other jobs. Unless you know for a fact that they’ll be leaving your business soon, they may have simply seen a couple of more appealing postings by chance and decided to see what comes of applying. This may be a sign that you’re not making the most of your employees’ potential, or falling short when it comes to scheduling, compensation, or other working conditions. This is when you need to start asking serious questions about what you can do better as a boss.

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