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Engaging Workplace - Employee & manager relationship in the workplace

By Ray Robertson Director, Strategic Reward Consultant, Visiting Lecturer, Guest Speaker and Author

According to the Great Place to Work Institute, trust between managers and employees is the primary defining characteristic of the very best workplaces. The Institute’s approach is based on the major findings of 20 years of research about organisations where employees "trust the people they work for, have pride in what they do, and enjoy the people they work with". These organisations provide great facilities and flexible working styles too.

Engendering trust and pride

The employee-manager relationship is at the heart of trust and pride in the work employees do and the company they work for. Great managers inspire people to be their best; poor managers inspire people to leave! So, managers’ behaviour matters a lot. After all, employees’ perceptions of the organisation they work for is shaped significantly by their day-to-day relationship with line managers. They bring organisational values, business objectives and policies to life. Get that right and employees feel able to voice their opinions, feel that these count and strive to do their best for their colleagues and customers. Get it wrong and lots of dispirited, disengaged and disinterested employees turn up for work – hardly a recipe for great teamwork and customer satisfaction.

So strong is the belief among great managers that if you build your people first, the rest – customer satisfaction and financial success – will follow. Harvard Business School’s research about the Value-Profit Chain speaks volumes about the connection. What is a great manager? There are some very specific things that they aspire to “be” and “do”.

effective manager

Making the job interesting and enjoyable

When employees really enjoy their job, I believe they work smarter and stay longer than employees who don’t. They are “engaged”. So, what is it about the relationship with their job and the organisation that makes it intrinsically enjoyable? Five things stand out.

1. Knowing what to do and why Make sure employees know what to do and understand how that contributes to the organisation’s performance. By involving employees in developing its vision and values, Accor Hotels, UK communicated what mattered most to the company and that provided the context for everybody’s job. In the current economic climate, employees should be told what’s going on and be given a picture of what the future could look like.

2. An interesting job What one employee finds interesting another may find boring. A supermarket checkout job suits a person who likes dealing face-to face with customers but doesn’t want too much administrative responsibility. A software developer will be looking for challenging work, relatively complex and novel situations where standards of excellence have to be met and there is the opportunity to be a proactive problem solver. A senior manager will want a combination of technical or commercial challenges which stretches their abilities across all aspects of their work – perhaps involving building crucial relationships with key customers. Production operators who craft high quality leather seats for prestigious cars, like using traditional skills and modern technology and meeting the customer who’s ordered the model they’re working on. They often strongly identify with the brand too.

3. Autonomy to do what’s best Don’t micro-manage. Give employees a degree of discretion to make decisions in line with their experience and risks involved. This will bring out the best in them and help them do what matters to customers, internal or external. Decision making authority should be cascaded to the lowest level possible in the organisation, so that employees resolve day-to-day problems when they arise and act in the best interests of colleagues and customers, and do so with appropriate speed. Great managers give coaching which concentrates on building an employee’s strengths rather than turning around their weaknesses. Some employees may not be for “turning”. Strengths-based coaching encourages employees to come up with new ideas and extend the boundaries of their capabilities. They might just come up with an outright winning product or service for customers.

4. Access to business leaders and 4. customers Too often employees feel isolated from the people at the top of the organisation or its customers; sometimes they don’t see or hear from them at all. If this continues, smart employees will be off to the compe- tition when the economic upturn comes. All senior managers at one of my hotel clients, employing around 1,000 people, hold bi-monthly meetings with employees to discuss business performance and employees’ concerns. A summary of the issues raised and agreed actions is sent to all Board members. At Assael Architects, a 68 employee firm of architects, Managing Director John Assael interviews all job applicants and mentors students. Browne Jacobson, a 500 employee legal firm, has introduced, at the request of employees, facilities where employees can meet informally with clients.

5. Appreciation for work done Thank you messages from the manager, a personal letter/email from a senior manager, a visit from a director – all are important at the right time. The General Manager of the hotel referred to above, shows lots of appreciation for the work employees do for guests, by making impromptu visits to departments, presenting small gifts and spending time with them to talk about their achievements. Employees attending focus groups held during a review of HR practices spoke enthusiastically about the appreciation shown by the General Manager – clear leadership in an engaging workplace.


flexible style

Top 10 tips for creating an engaging workplace

  1. Highly visible business leaders who “walk the talk”. In small companies the MD could hold “breakfast clubs” at the main location to discuss business issues and employee concerns. In large companies heads of business units could do the same. Additionally, all new employees, at induction, spend an hour with the MD or head of business unit. In small companies each employee might have a mentor on the Board.
  2. Leading edge technology where appropriate – enable employees to test your products or services; this can be invaluable later when they’re contacting customers.
  3. Access to gurus or other experts, inside and outside your organisation, with appropriate knowledge from whom they can learn.
  4. Opportunity to work on a challenging / key customer project.
  5. Encourage employees to share their ideas and concerns.
  6. Allow employees the autonomy that can lead to rapid career growth and recognition.
  7. Opportunity to give something back to the local community or environment.
  8. Make employees feel appreciated – never take them for granted. If you do, they’ll go elsewhere..
  9. Make sure your physical work environment says what you want it to say. Plants and colours never hurt anyone! If you want creativity – give people the space and relaxing areas to be creative.
  10. Ask employees what matters to them – sometimes it’s the little things that really count!


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