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Employees fall somewhere between "engaged" and "disengaged" on the engagement scale.

A high engagement level means less risk that employees will be dissatisfied and a greater likelihood they will be creative and productive. A low level can mean low productivity and high rates of absenteeism.

Leaders who understand engagement and its benefits actively take steps to build on it. Those who don't understand it tend to wonder why attendance levels are decreasing or disability claims are increasing.

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Start by determining whether you are active or reactive with respect to employee engagement.

If you are spending a large amount of time combatting absenteeism, addressing underperformance, coping with high turnover and dealing with negative and frustrated employees, your approach is reactive. If you're active, you're deliberately taking steps to influence employee engagement.

Next, you must be aware of two key issues when influencing engagement:

Cultural reality

Never assume; get the facts and be interested in the truth. Leaders can facilitate annual employee engagement surveys that can establish a benchmark and set goals to focus on and improve year over year. This works best when senior management is committed and cares about the organization's engagement levels.

Employee job satisfaction

Be interested in employees' perceptions about stress-producing factors such as workplace demands, working conditions, communications effectiveness, safety, and peer and manager relationships. Effective leaders understand that employees' perceptions of their company's corporate culture influences the organization's ability to mature to its full potential.

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So what should a good manager do? There are several steps you can take to influence your staff members engagement:

Get the facts and be open to them. The more a leader can see the world through their employees' eyes, the greater the opportunity for honest two-way communications.

If something needs to be improved, don't just say you will do something about it. Think about it, write about it, and implement an action plan. Measure your progress and be vigilant.

Evaluate your leadership strengths and weaknesses. Leaders who can engage employees do so through communication, consistency, integrity, and showing that employees matter. These leaders acknowledge and are grateful for good work.

Understand that engagement is not a survey; it's daily action. Avoid believing that your actions don't make a difference; they do. Get involved with your teams every day and show that you're interested in what they do.

Pay attention to your words. Audit yourself for 10 business days and count the number of times you praise good work versus correct behaviour. See employees doing good work and acknowledge it authentically. They will know whether you're being truthful.

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Accept that engagement is a dynamic process. There is no goal line; it's a moving target that requires constant attention, commitment and action. However, the payoff is huge. Engaged employees are more likely to want to do their best work every day. They are more likely to love the workplace and engage in behaviour that benefits themselves, the organization and their communities.

Bill Howatt is the president of Howatt HR Consulting and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S. Website: www.howatthr.com

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