C-Suite Advisory

Five Actions Leaders Can Take Now to Improve Productivity and Engagement

Hilary Jane Grosskopf

How to meet the trends of quiet quitting and the great resignation? Unless you are living under a rock, you have probably read about the trends of quiet quitting and the great resignation. As someone who has been a traditional corporate employee before the pandemic, a self-employed consultant, a remote corporate employee recently, and now switched back to self-employment, I can advocate for the fact that the trending lack of employee engagement is not random or unavoidable. I have experienced it myself. It’s actually not mysterious at all. 

In fact, every case I have heard about over the past year, comes down to one thing: Leadership. The vast majority of cases that involve lack of employee productivity or engagement can be attributed to the direct manager. As a leadership trainer and writer, I have seen hundreds of cases that come back to the fact that leadership in small companies and large corporations is lacking now more than ever before. 

Leadership training, team building events, and conferences were compromised due to pandemic budget cuts and the migration to remote work. A focus on training leaders and cultivating team connection and chemistry is essential for sustainable progress. My hope is that these rising trends underscore the importance of leadership training and team building. In the meantime, there are 5 specific actions leaders can take to address these trends of low engagement, lack of motivation, and turnover. 

  1. Rethink support and motivation, these go hand-in-hand
    Supporting your team means fueling your team’s best work. Support includes everything from environment, to schedule, and the people they work with. Supporting your team is motivating because people want to be empowered to do their best work. In order to give team members the right support, you must gather feedback about what they need in order to do their best work. If your team member flags something to you as a problem, whether it is their schedule or someone they work with, don’t hesitate to take action and make it right.

    Leaders who sit on feedback and don’t do anything about it make employees feel unheard and disrespected. A co-worker of mine had a peer who made errors and didn’t pull their weight on the team for months. She brought it up each week at her one-on-one meetings with her leader, but he failed to address the problem. After six months of working with this peer with no hope for change, she left the company. Her leader lost a productive team member and was left with the lazy one. By not taking action on the feedback and providing support, he actually made his job a lot harder and compromised his team.

    In terms of a supportive schedule, it’s challenging to require team members to show up for group meetings while also giving them freedom to work at times they are most productive. Yes, collective meetings are essential; however, it’s best to gather input from your team on what times are best for meetings. Schedule meetings on a regular cadence ahead of time instead of requesting urgent meetings on the fly. This gives employees the space to plan and get work done, while also having dedicated time to align and connect.

  2. Keep promises you made during interviews
    Trust and respect are foundational aspects of a leader-team member relationship. When interviewing a prospective hire, be mindful and set realistic expectations. Do not just sell a prospective hire on the job. If you have a revolving door of team members, it might be because the job they signed up for is not the job they’re doing.

    A colleague of mine recently accepted a job offer where, during his interviews, the hiring manager assured him that he would not have to attend night time calls. At first, the hiring manager (now his leader) respected his schedule requirements to work between the hours of 9am and 6pm. However, after the first month, the leader started putting my colleague on night time calls for a project with clients in Asia. The boss harassed him if he missed the nighttime calls and asked that he at least attend two 9pm calls each week.

    The problem with making false promises to attract a new hire is that it creates a relationship that is void of trust. This also applies for someone’s role scope or job responsibilities. If circumstances change after the person is hired, it’s up to the leader to make arrangement for that team member to be accommodated according to his or her promises during the interviews. Don’t break promises. This is de-motivating and you’re likely to either lose the engagement of this team member or lose them completely.

  3. Reward and acknowledge people for creating value, not just for showing up
    People love to say that 90% of success is showing up. At work, they are most often referring to the fact that showing your face at meetings or online through messaging is the most important part of working for a company. Unfortunately, many leaders think that people who show up are doing the most work. This simply isn’t true! Although it is important to show up, team members should actually be rewarded and acknowledged for the value that they contribute.

    One woman I spoke to recently works remotely for an educational-technology startup. She said that many of her co-workers barely work during the week; however, during the weekends, they make sure to send a couple messages to their leader or even the CEO to make it look like they’re working overtime. She said that these team members are even acknowledged for their hard work.

    Instead of measuring productivity based on who shows up or speaks the most, I recommend keeping a weekly log of individual team member contributions. What milestones have they helped achieve? What strategic direction or leadership have they contributed? Celebrate those weekly wins and contributions at your team meetings. This is what creates value and progress for your team. Meetings and messages facilitate that progress but they should not be an indicator for actual productivity. Sometimes the quiet people are busy doing valuable work!

  4. Respect people’s time and schedule
    A central reason that people “quiet quit”, or stop feeling motivated about their work, is that they feel their time is wasted or disrespected. Many leaders schedule meetings without an agenda or even don’t show up to the meeting at all. When team members put aside valuable time that they could otherwise spend doing work or personal tasks, it’s disrespectful to cancel a meeting last minute or no-show. Even if you are “the boss”, it’s important to respect people’s time. Put meetings on the calendar intentionally and show up well-prepared.

    In addition to preparation and attention, engaging your team members during meetings is also important. When the leader pontificates and does not ask for ideas or feedback, people feel bored and void of purpose. As you prepare for meetings, think about how you can engage others to facilitate discussion and gather feedback on your approach.

  5. Communicate the team mission and goals, and don’t change direction too often
    Although it might be obvious to the leader, team members often get side-tracked or confused as to what the purpose of their job actually is and what they should be focusing on in a given week. One of the most important things that leaders can do to facilitate productivity and motivation is to communicate the team’s mission, the goals, and the delegation of tasks.

    In my books, I offer a few tangible ways to communicate your mission, your goals, and individual responsibilities. It’s helpful to have a weekly team meeting where you return to your team’ mission and communicate your collective goals. During one-on-one meetings, review individual goals with each team member. Role Mapping can be useful for this.

Also, while it’s realistic that companies, especially startups, change their direction and goals frequently, this actually reduces motivation and engagement. When employees don’t understand why the team is changing priorities or direction, they feel as though their time has been wasted and that leadership doesn’t know what they’re doing. It feels like the leadership and company lack vision. As a leader, become a source of stable guidance, encouragement, and an anchor for the team’s meaningful work. 

I hope this gives you an inside view into why employees might be “quiet quitting” or resigning. Take these five actions now to get ahead of this trend and facilitate productivity and engagement! 

Written by Hilary Jane Grosskopf.

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Hilary Jane Grosskopf
Hilary Jane Grosskopf is the author of Awake Leadership: A System for Leading with Clarity and Creativity and Awake Ethics: A System for Aligning Your Action with Your Core Intentions. She is a leadership strategist and founder of Awake Leadership Solutions. Her new book, “Awake Apprenticeship” is due out later this year. Hilary Jane Grosskopf is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow her on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.