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How conversations can boost employee engagement

How conversations can boost employee engagement

A successful employee engagement strategy involves face-to-face discussions taking place with line managers – and HR managers have a role to play in facilitating such discussions.

Many organisations fail to achieve this goal and it is becoming more difficult as technology enables more efficient working, time savings and immediacy of communication, says Nick Cowley in HR magazine.

Employees' levels of engagement are directly affected by the quality of the manager-employee relationship. In turn, this affects levels of absenteeism, retention, levels of innovation, customer service, "positive outcomes in public services" and staff advocacy.

Statistical evidence shows engagement helps employees become more creative at work.

However, improving employee engagement is not merely a question of managers spending more time talking to their personnel. It is about knowing which conversations they should have – which conversations really matter.

Five different conversations can help improve engagement. Firstly, conversations should be about establishing a relationship of trust, requiring positive intent and involving the manager asking questions such as "What would you like to know about me that would help us work better together?"

Secondly, conversations that focus on mutual expectations are beneficial. The manager focuses on the employee's goal and how the manager can help achieve this.

Showing genuine appreciation and using the art of appreciative inquiry is the third type of conversation – it helps to boost awareness and confidence.

The fourth conversation involves challenging unhelpful behaviour, by making the employee aware of the negative effect this has on the manager.

Finally, an important conversation involves building for the future – establishing where the employee wants to be two or three years in the future. This can be help companies to retain talent.

HR managers can facilitate these kinds of conversations by establishing the current levels of engagement and determining how they can be improved strategically, discussing ideas with leaders and work groups, and providing advice, support, references and contacts to increase understanding.

They can also demonstrate how interrelated factors contribute to employee engagement and propose metrics and mechanisms which can check and review progress. 

Considerations such as these give HR managers the chance to move beyond traditional solutions and to create environments in which these conversations can be had.