Q: My company surveyed all employees on engagement and satisfaction at work—and the results weren’t good. Now, all the managers, including me, have to get to know their employees better to increase engagement. I’m not great with social interactions, so I’m at a loss. What are some appropriate and natural ways to get to know my employees better—without seeming weird or disingenuous?
A: Congratulations to your company for caring about and following through on engagement satisfaction initiatives. Survey information around employee satisfaction can provide great results—and recognizing organizational and individual strengths is just as important as identifying areas for improvement. One of the most significant indicators of employee engagement is whether or not their manager cares about them as a person. Any improvement in this area can increase employee satisfaction in the workplace. There’s a common saying that people leave managers, not companies—and the same can be said for why people stay at an organization and remain engaged: People work for their managers, not for the company. Having a positive, mutual relationship is very important for employee satisfaction.
You’re absolutely right about not wanting to seem weird or disingenuous, so think about the ways that you’re comfortable getting to know people. There’s no need to go too far outside your comfort zone too fast—that won’t be helpful or enjoyable for anyone. Maybe you start small, with a brief morning check in. Don’t walk straight into your office when you arrive in the morning—instead, swing by your employees’ work areas, say hello, and casually ask about their weekends. In other situations that are more private, you might find that asking open-ended questions is your best approach so the employee can decide what level of information they’d like to share. So, rather than directly asking “Do you have a spouse and kids?” you might say, “Tell me about your activities or hobbies.” I would also encourage you to offer something about yourself in this scenario—within what you are comfortable sharing, of course. This isn’t a one-way questioning situation—it’s a conversation to build a mutual relationship. You can also make a habit of keeping your door open when possible and inviting people to sit down when they come ask you questions. All of these behaviors, small as they may seem, help develop better relationships.
Once you are more comfortable with small office interactions, you can move on to coffee or an annual lunch—everything is better over food, after all. These more involved activities to increase employee engagement don’t have to be intimidating, even if you don’t think you’re good at social interactions. Lunch doesn’t have to be an hour—schedule it to be a little shorter if you don’t think you can carry the conversation that long. A 45-minute lunch will give you just enough time to order your meals, talk a little about the menu and other favorite foods or restaurants, and chat a little more as you eat. Even the act of picking a restaurant allows you to learn more about your employees—just don’t be cheap in your selection; take them somewhere other than the company cafeteria!
You may even decide to disclose to your employees that you aren’t always your best in social situations or that you’re shy. This is definitely being genuine with your employees, and you might find they’re more forgiving and understanding in your interactions with them.
Having personal relationships with your employees allows you to ask things like “How was your daughter’s recital?” or “How’s your mother’s broken shoulder?” People want to be cared for as people in addition to as employees, and relationship-building activities will make your organization a better workplace. Take some small steps first in getting to know your employees—the more significant events will follow with a little bit of energy. Good luck!