Employee Engagement

May 2, 2018

3 ways managers can reduce employee stress

At a local meeting of human resources professionals last month, I talked briefly about the links between workplace stress and employee disengagement. It is incredible when you realize that in the U.S., the combination of these two conditions costs companies nearly a TRILLION dollars annually. Yep, a trillion dollars annually. That’s lost productivity, sick days, employee turnover, and more.

I can absolutely think of places where I have worked that had both high levels of stress and disengaged employees marking time, just begging for the day to end. It’s oppressive to work in a culture like that. I remember dreading to go to in the morning. I remember having difficulty shaking off the negativity when I got home at night. And I remember the mingled feelings of relief and joy when I found a new job.

That’s no way to live. As a manager, there are things you can do, even in difficult cultures, to ensure that your employees are not just marking time until they find that next job. Three things employees will tell you that they need from you to help them engage are:

  • Talk to me. Every employee, every person, wants to feel like they matter. Making sure they do is an important job for a manager. If I asked you right now, would you know the birthdays of your immediate reports? Their work anniversary dates? Would you know what they do at work that makes them fulfilled? What they do that they would really like to pass on to someone else? What they consider to be their strengths? Their weaknesses? Would you know if they are struggling with something, whether it is personal or professional? If you do, you learned most of that by talking to them. And I guarantee your employee knows you care.
  • Motivate me. Yes, you can motivate employees. Sure, they need to develop and demonstrate self-motivation. I hope you know your employees well enough to recognize it that lags, because that is something you want to talk about. Aside from that, employees are also motivated externally. A few, and only a few, are motivated by money, or more specifically, by getting ROI. Others are motivated by having power, while some want the ability to serve others. Some people are absolutely motivated by their surroundings and having positive experiences. Then there are those who are lifelong learners and thrive on knowledge. Finally, there are those for whom structure, process, and systemization are what it is all about. If you talk to your employees enough (see #1), or observe the kind of environment they establish for themselves, you’ll see these different motivational values come into play.
  • Make a plan with me. A key factor in workplace stress is job security. That means a lot more to employees than just knowing that they aren’t about to be fired. It also means knowing that they have a way to grow: skills, experience, and financially. As the manager, it’s your job work with your employees to develop their career path. This means knowing their hopes, their dreams, their aspirations. And to do that, I refer you back to item #1.

I hope you caught onto the fact that connecting with your employees is about the best stress reliever there is. Connection to their manager, their co-workers, and yes, the company and its mission is key to bringing down stress levels and raising up levels of engagement.

Increasing employee engagement and reducing workplace stress are two ways we work with companies. We do that by building more self-aware leaders which in turn makes stronger leaders and managers. Does your company need some help?


Susanne Dalton Dupes is a training and communications specialist and co-founder of Ignite Succeed. You can Susanne by phone at 865-896-9665 or by email at Susanne@IgniteSucceed.com.

March 3, 2018

Three “Ts” that will connect you and your employees

Like most employees, when I was working for other people, there were some very specific things I needed so that I felt connected and valued. Of course, I wanted to be paid appropriately, but money wasn’t a top driver for me.

For me, and maybe for you, it was that relationship with my manager. I had a manager once who never appreciated anything I did and usually would take credit for my work. I couldn’t leave that job fast enough.

I was also lucky enough late in my career to have an outstanding manager who taught me a lot and always made me feel valued. She did that by always following the three T’s that make employees feel connected.

Talk, Thank, and Trust

Talk regularly: Managers who are most effective have ongoing dialogue with their employees. They create conversations that draw the employee in, engages them in creating success, and makes a strong human connection. When I only really talked with my manager during the annual performance review, my connection to mission success was far from what it was with the manager who created frequent conversations.

This is not the passive open-door policy where I could come to them if I wanted. No, strong managers actively seek out employees for dialogue specifically to create connection. Are you talking to your employees regularly?

Thank them often: There’s nothing worse than being left in limbo land about your performance. Particularly when you have put in extra time and effort, have stretched to learn new skills, have taken on new responsibilities, or have stepped up in a crunch. We all know that job demands have grown as work forces have dwindled. That makes saying thank you to employees more vital than ever. Showing appreciation is a simple, but powerful act.

If you only have a couple of tools in your manager’s tool kit, be sure that showing appreciation your employees on an individual basis is one of them. Think about how you feel when someone appreciates you. It’s good, right? OK, pass that feeling along. It will deepen the connection with each of your employees. Are you saying “thank you” enough?

Trust them: Have you ever worked for a manager, or a leader, who wanted to show you “the right way” to cross your T’s and dot your I’s? You know, those micro-managers who don’t trust anyone but themselves to get the job done “right” (right=their way). The lack of trust there is pretty oppressive, isn’t it. But that’s not the only way managers and leaders kill trust.

Another equally important trust killer is never letting an employee stretch, take risks, and innovate. Encouraging employees to stretch and grow, and being open to their ideas for new ways, more efficient ways, even more fun ways to do their jobs is a tremendous way to grow connection with your employees. Are you encouraging your employees to stretch and grow, without constantly watching over their shoulders?

Try It

When you surround your employees with regular Talking, authentic Thanks, and encouraging Trust, you will be amazed at the connection you will build.

We challenge you to intentionally employ these three T’s over the next 30 days. Let us know if you begin to see a difference in how your employees respond to you.

And, as always, let us know if we can help.

July 26, 2017

What did you expect?

photo of man holding sign that says "manage expectations"A friend of mine recently marked a significant work anniversary — 15 years. These days, that a pretty good record of longevity at one workplace. In fact, only two employees at the organization have been there this long.

She telecommutes. So when she was asked to come into the office for a staff meeting around the anniversary date, she figured there was going to be an acknowledgement, maybe some cake. And she was right, sort of. A certificate, with her name misspelled, and no cake. The CEO said thanks for the service and moved on to the next item on the agenda.

I will admit, I was shocked. The employees in this organization are its only asset. They sell nothing. I started thinking about the other folks around the table who were watching this. I have to imagine that they took note of how little their colleagues service was valued.

Would it surprise you to know that employee retention is a big problem for this organization? They bungled an easy opportunity. By celebrating the long service of this employee, they would have demonstrated to all that they are valued. Just a little cake, a small amount of fanfare, and a little quality control (get the name right, for heaven’s sake} could have said volumes. Instead, this big miss likely sent a very negative message throughout the organization.

Are you missing opportunities to value your employees? If you aren’t sure, you probably are. Let’s talk about how Ignite can help.

May 2, 2017

Change is coming. Three ways to be ready.

Change is just around the corner, just through the door, almost just with the next breath you take.  Everything is changing all the time because we don’t live in a static world.  

As a manager, your job is to help employees deal with change. That is easier with some than others.  In fact, research shows us that 35-40% of the U.S. population has a High S, or Steadiness, factor using the DISC assessment. These are the folks who are slow to accept change, and then only if there is a good reason to change.

To make your change effort successful, don’t forget the following three keys:

  1. Arm Yourself. Ensure that you identify potential concerns and questions. Then have clear, easily understood answers for those concerns, along with bottom-line pro and con information to share with everyone.
  2. Ally with the Adopters. Make the early adopters your partners in the change effort. There are always people who are ready and willing to support your change effort.  It’s up to you to identify them and enlist them as champions.
  3. Prepare the Resisters. People who are uncomfortable with change need your attention. You need to plan your change effort so that you give them the time and space they need, along with a great reason that demonstrates both the need for the change as well as the “what’s in it for me?” explanation.

At DaltonDupes, we help managers and leaders understand and make change in a way that helps employees engage in the change process.  Call if we can help you.

April 7, 2017

Is Your Workplace Laughing Enough?

We always had a copy of Reader’s Digest at home when I was growing up. The monthly publication had several humor sections, including my favorite, “Laughter Is the Best Medicine.”

There is a lot of wisdom in that title, especially in today’s workplace, where stress is a huge problem.  Do a mental look around your workplace right now. At any given time, would there be a larger percentage of workers smiling and laughing, or frowning, studious, or with knitted brows? Your answer tells you two things about your culture.

Companies that foster lighter cultures with real laughter in meetings and hallways are likely to have lower levels of stress. Two reasons why their stress is lower are:

  1. When people are laughing together, they are bonding. One measure of workplace stress is how much social support employees feel. When laughter creates bonding, it also creates social support.
  2. Laughter is recognized as having strong health benefits. The Mayo Clinic says that over the short-term, laughter causes you to take in more oxygen, which stimulates your heart and brain. It soothes tension in your muscles.  And it cools down stress responses. Over the long-term, Mayo says that laughter can improve your immune system, mood, personal satisfaction, and even relieve pain.

If we did one of our workplace stress assessments at your organization, do you think you’d find that your employees have plenty of social support? In other words, are they laughing enough?

Let me know if you want to find out for sure.

January 18, 2017

Why Didn’t You Tell Me?

airport terminal

Terminal B at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport was my overnight host Sunday night. It was almost midnight Sunday night before I finally heard the words “cancelled flight.”  It was really bad weather, and I was on one of 67 flights that got cancelled.

Many of us sat at the gate from 6:30 until we heard those fateful words at nearly midnight.  And as we watched the departure time change roughly every 15 minutes, we all started to get a bit angry. Finally, one young man almost lost it. All because there was no communication from our gate agents.

Building relationships

In a crisis situation, clear, consistent, and frequent communication is critical. When you don’t tell your people what is going on, they fill in the blanks with frustration, negativity, anxiety, and lots of other negative emotions.

Fortunately, most of  us had weather aps on our phones, so we knew when a tornado warning was issued.  The gate agents didn’t tell us.  They also didn’t communicate about the mechanical issue or that the pilot was concerned about the route because of the weather.  We knew all of this because an experienced traveler continued to go to the gate and ask questions. Then he would share the info with folks around him, who would share it with folks around them.

Imagine if the gate agents had put themselves in our shoes, or had really treated us like a part of their family, like so many large companies tell us we are.  If they had acknowledged our frustration and stress by simply sharing status updates regularly, even to say we don’t know anything new, they could have built trust and relationship with us for their organization. Instead, they filled their time joking with each other, talking among themselves, and ignoring us.

As a customer, you want to be treated with respect, with dignity.  That night, we all needed a little warmth and compassion, a little empathy, some real customer service.  But that night, it didn’t exist.

November 9, 2016

Does Your Company Encourage Strong Working Relationships?

Positive relationships with colleagues in the workplace have never been so imrelationshipskeytobusinessportant.  Those relationships are obviously important to effective teamwork.  But more than that, they are crucial to balancing workplace stress.  The level of social support, that is, having a supportive work environment, is one of seven factors we consider when addressing workplace stress.

A supportive environment includes both managers who communicate clearly and consistently and peers who are there to provide assistance when you need them. Additionally, a supportive environment flows down from the top, where leaders actually encourage positive working relationships and they willingly address unacceptable behavior.

Symptoms of Unhealthy Environments

In an environment that is not supportive, you see three specific symptoms:

  1. Conflict: Employees and managers alike avoid conflict.  In fact, you might see people walking down the hallways with their eyes downcast to avoid looking at people with whom they might have conflicts that need to be addressed.  You will see people skipping company events to avoid potentially conflicted situations.  And you will see leaders who refuse to address conflict and just let it fester.
  2. Cooperation: When environments are not supportive, you are likely to see the effects of silos where departments don’t support one another, or an atmosphere of “me” where people are focused on their own projects and achievements and fail to offer support to other team members even when asked.
  3. Frustration: High levels of conflict and low levels of cooperation inevitably lead to frustration. Progress is stilted, opportunities are withheld, and a general sense of annoyance permeates the workplace.

When an organization fails to ensure that employees have positive working relationships, there are high stress and disengagement levels.  As a result, productivity falls, turnover rises, and customer service and quality suffer. In this day and age, no company can afford that.

October 4, 2016

Whose shoes are you walking in today?

A tip for Emotional Intelligence Awareness Month

Warning.  I am going to make a Star Trek reference.

Man putting on woman's red shoe

Commander Deanna Troi was the counselor  for the Federation starship Enterprise (Star Trek: The Next Generation). What made her so good at that job was that she was an empath by birth.  Because she could actually sense the emotions of everyone on board, she could, in effect, see through their eyes and walk in their shoes.

Here on planet Earth, what good is having strong levels of empathy?  Let’s clarify exactly what empathy is. In the context of emotional intelligence, empathy is “your ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people.” How does that help you in the workplace?

Empathy enhances your ability to:

  • Communicate with people more effectively according to their emotional cues
  • Promote collaboration in the workplace by seeing situations from co-workers’ viewpoints
  • Anticipate the emotional response of coworkers in stressful situations
  • Create strong and lasting relationships.

Build Your Empathy

But what if you have low levels of empathy?  Following are five things you can do to build your empathy:

  1. Attempt to see things from others’ perspectives before responding to your peers at work or family members.
  2. Observe nonverbal behavior to evaluate the negative or positive emotions of others.
  3. Develop stronger active listening skills, allowing others to finish their thoughts and then ask questions versus making statements.
  4. Consider how others will feel as a consequence of your actions or statements. Not only what you say, but how you say it.
  5. Be genuine about expressing gratitude toward others.

Because ~90% of everything is communication, we call all become more effective at work and at home by considering others’ viewpoints and attempting to walk in their shoes.

September 9, 2016

Self-reflection: A high performance skill

A tip for International Self-Awareness Month 

More than 2,000 years ago, the ancient Greeks urged us to “know thyself.” Plato, Socrates, and many learned men who followed have written about the importance of spending time in self-reflection. They all recognized that self-reflection was key to self-awareness and self-awareness is key to being a strong, valuable contributor to society.ego man reflection in mirror on a white background

Today’s world is vastly different from the world of the ancient Greeks.  With our constant connection to the workplace, the demands for social media participation, and even the 24/7 news cycle, little time is left to consider the “why” questions that those ancient intellectuals pondered so deeply.

High performers are self-reflective

High performers make time to ask “why.” They hold up a mirror to see why both mistakes and successes happened. They set aside quiet time for meditation or to write in a journal or seek feedback from friends and colleagues. And they use the information they gather from this self-reflection to make changes and improvements that propel them forward.

High-performing managers and leaders encourage their team members to spend time in self-reflection, gathering “lessons learned” and developing best practices.  For high performers, self-reflection is a standard part of the process, never an afterthought.

So how about you? Do you schedule time for self-reflection? Does your daily routine include tools to build your self-awareness and strengthen your emotional intelligence?  No? There’s no time like the present to get started.

August 1, 2016

Do you give good feedback?

We give feedback all the time in our personal lives, even if we don’t think of it that way.  “Could you turn the volume up a little?” “I love that color on you.” “Pass the salt, please.” These personal kinds of feedback, even “pass the salt,” are aimed at improving things, making things better for ourselves and/or others. They come fairly naturally to us.Feedback

Workplace Feedback

Why is it then that when we enter the workplace, giving feedback becomes less natural, sometimes even scary? I think it is because we lose sight of what is supposed to happen on the other side of feedback. The goal of feedback is improvement — making it or maintaining it.

When a manager tells an employee, “great job,” that manager is giving feedback that reinforces what the employee did right, the improved situation that now exists thanks to their actions. When managers give feedback that suggests, or even demands, doing things a different way, they are pointing to a situation that could exist, that they want to exist.

Because the workplace and the things that need to happen to create success are dynamic, sometimes changing daily, managers need to be giving feedback frequently. There are always things being done well that need to be reinforced, and things to be done differently, or better, that need to be redirected.

If you are doing that, continually helping your employees to move forward, either with changes or by staying on the same path, you are giving good feedback.

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