During the pandemic, many people used the forced pause in their daily lives to reevaluate what they really wanted from their careers and workplaces. Whether their introspection resulted in the determination to seek higher pay, more professional development opportunities, or increased flexibility, the resulting "great resignation" or the droves of individuals who left their jobs in search of new opportunities, was not only a referendum on workplace culture but also on ourselves and our ability to recognize and prioritize what it takes to thrive. As a manager in this evolving climate, I understand, now more than ever, how vital it is for me to ensure that my employees are engaged. I also share the desire to work in an environment where people are enthusiastic about what they do and how they do it, so I strive to cultivate a culture where my employees feel heard, seen, and fulfilled in their roles, so I can flourish as well. Here are three things I implement every day that shapes my team's engagement:
At work, I’m known for being an active member of the Black, LGBTQ, and Women-led ERGs; a proud dog mom; a newlywed; a former DJ who moonlights from time to time at company events; a person who’s lost a parent, an empath and someone who lives with ADHD. Being transparent about who I am, and the varied aspects of my identity have nurtured a culture that’s made it safe for my employees to bring their true selves to work as well. So, instead of expending unnecessary mental and emotional energy trying to conform, my team is encouraged to focus on what they're passionate about and what makes them uniquely themselves, which allows them to be present, think creatively, and fully engage in their work. For example, I had an employee share with me how my being both a woman of color and an open member of the LGBTQ+ community in management gave him the courage to openly embrace his identity as a member of the community as well. He said that fully acknowledging this part of his identity gave him the confidence to be more vocal in other areas of his professional life like being more forthright about the next steps in his career. Representation matters and the transparency of knowing that we can all bring our full selves to work grounds us in mutual respect and appreciation for one another - enabling us to do great work and achieve more, regardless of our background or lived experiences.
From my first management role to now, I’ve always told my teams that, “I’ll never ask anything of them that I wouldn’t do myself,” meaning, in short, that while I encourage them to be solution-oriented, they’re also aware that when they have a problem, I will get in the trenches with them to help solve it. We workshop answers to challenging questions. I survey their feedback on new initiatives, value their opinion, and will adjust the course based on their feedback. And while my hope is to provide guidance and thought leadership whenever possible, meaningful collaboration is only feasible when leaders are also willing to acknowledge when they don’t have the answer, have made a mistake, or need to rely on the expertise of others to overcome the hurdle at hand. Leading through the lens that you are not the only person at the table with the answers allows the strengths of your team members to shine through and creates a culture of trust where they’re not only comfortable asking for help but bought into the importance of offering it as well.
As individuals, we are all motivated differently, so I spend time getting to know my employees as people, not just as employees so that I can center our conversations around the things they care most about. For example, I once had an employee tell me that they were motivated by three things, “money, professional development, and recognition.” Knowing this gave me the opportunity to communicate openly and honestly with them about how they were doing in the role, as well as areas where improvements may have been required - which made each point more relevant because I could relate it to one of the core motivations they’d cited early on in our manager-managee relationship. Taking into account that your employees have their own goals that are separate from the business and yours as their manager will make your employees' work more meaningful, resulting in a better understanding of the impact of their work both personally and professionally.
There are many ways that employers, managers, and company leaders can impact their employees’ sense of inclusion and fulfillment in their roles - what are some that have stood out to you in your career?
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.