With the dismal reports of employee engagement, the question at the top of many leaders’ minds is “how can I engage my team?” We know that only 33% of employees are actively engaged in their work—which means that only one in three people are happy and willing to go the extra mile to support their organizations. 16% of employees are actively disengaged from their work—leaving 51% of employees who are merely there. They show up on time, sure, but when it comes to innovation, or pitching in overtime to meet a big deadline, you can’t count on them.
So what’s a team leader to do? There’s a long and multi-faceted answer to that question—but for now let’s focus on one element—encouraging health and resilience in the workplace. We simply weren’t meant to sit at a desk for eight hours or more per day, yet up to 86% of us do it everyday.
If your team is struggling with engagement, try one of these techniques to encourage a healthy work environment:
Hold walking meetings. Not only will you counter the bad effects of sitting all day, the change in environment will encourage innovative thinking. If you don’t want to walk and talk, try relocating a few of your meetings to a coffee shop, local park, or other new space.
Encourage people to take breaks. It could be a few minutes to look out the window (reducing eye-strain from staring at a monitor all day), five minutes to stretch their shoulders at their desks, fifteen minutes to chat with a colleague about the latest episode of Game of Thrones, or a twenty minute walk around the block to stave off the mid-afternoon slump.
In addition, look around your office at lunch time—is your team using their break to decompress? Or are they scarfing down a sandwich at their desks while they finish a report or prep for their next meeting? Take steps to adjust the culture—leaders can take their own lunch breaks to model the behavior, check in with individuals to see if they’ve taken a break, and try not to schedule important meetings just before or after lunch.
Taking time away from work is essential for recharging and approaching problems creatively. For many people, vacation time is an important, but underused element of their compensation package. In the hustle of day-to-day operations, it’s easy to feel like we’re “too busy” to take time off, or feel we just need to finish up those few projects before we can think about getting away. Maybe we’re worried about the ripple effect taking vacation time will have on the rest of the team. Have a look at your calendar over the past year—have each of your team members taken a vacation recently? If not, have a conversation about how you can help them take some time away (you can also model this behavior by taking a break yourself!).
Invest in equipment that allows your team to optimize their workspace. Extenders that turn sitting desks into standing desks are an inexpensive way to help your staff overcome the negative effects of sitting all day. Invest in chairs with proper lumbar support and adjustability, and bring in an expert on posture to help people avoid the dangers of slumping at their desks all day.
Start a Fitbit challenge, a Slack channel for team members to talk about their health goals and initiatives, a walking group, or other group accountability initiative that encourages your team to talk about their health and fitness goals. At Actionable, there’s a small but feisty step competition among those with Fitbits, and the #actionablehealth channel on Slack is the perfect place for me to evangelize my newfound love of rock climbing. We also share stories about yoga studios that serve beer, identifying your sleep style, and how to incorporate more exercise into the workday.
Let your team manage their own schedules. Flexible start and finish times, as well as the freedom to duck out midday for an appointment, can have incredible impact on engagement. People have children, commutes, family members, and medical appointments that they need to manage—trust them to get their work done, and don’t ask for a reason every time they need to come in a bit late, or take a few hours in the afternoon to care for themselves. In some industries and teams, operations depend on having people at their desks for certain hours of the day—in these cases, be as flexible as possible without affecting outcomes.
Don’t skip your one on one meetings. We know that engagement is directly related to the relationships people have with their colleagues and their managers. Make time, each and every week, to check in. Don’t just use these to discuss project updates—talking about personal goals, everyday life, and celebrating wins can help you create a first class culture.
When you are thinking about implementing an initiative to encourage wellness, the most important thing to keep in mind is that each and every employee is an individual. This is where your one on one meetings become crucial—a team building excursion to a rock climbing gym sounds incredible for some people, and like pulling teeth to others. A fitbit challenge is a great way to build team camaraderie through a bit of healthy competition—unless you struggle with mobility issues and feel totally left out. It’s important to create a culture where people feel empowered to opt-out of initiatives that don’t fit their lives or abilities, without feeling ostracized from the group.
Shooting for one-size fits all solutions is bound to create animosity. Be sensitive to potential issues, check in often, and create a culture where your team feels able to talk with you honestly about the challenges they are facing.
To create a team that is stacked with highly engaged, top-performers, you’re going to need a lot of tools—robust hiring and onboarding processes, a commitment to creating and maintaining an excellent culture, meaningful relationships between leaders and peers built on frequent conversations, a commitment to providing ongoing learning and development, and much more. Focusing on health and resilience is just one element of this complex puzzle. Use the tactics above to improve one element of your work environment, and enjoy the effects of a healthier, more resilient team on improving engagement.