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Section 2: Six discussions to have to re-engage your employees

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Photo of woman on her laptop with the quote: "the most impactful action you can take is to have ongoing open conversations with you team collectively and with team members individually"

Below are suggested topics and questions to consider discussing with your team. The questions you will choose will vary with the concerns and needs of the team and individuals.

1. Supporting through crisis

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Supportive Management (See Employee Engagement Chart for icon reference)

Your team will have questions, concerns, misconceptions, and issues they want to talk about. With the right questions, you can dig into each of these areas effectively and help them (and you) come away relieved that you’re on the same page and have a clearer understanding of what’s going on. This will help you solidify their trust during a time where trust is otherwise easy to lose.

The problem is, with all the stress and uncertainty, they might not feel like opening up at first. So, you’ll often need to guide the conversation where it needs to go to ensure you touch on each of these areas.

Ask your team member in a 1:1 meeting:

Start by opening up the conversation with questions like:

  • How are you feeling right now?
  • What is on your mind?

​After you've warmed things up a bit, consider asking: 

  • What can I do to help you feel more confident or comfortable right now?

2. Demonstrating compassion

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Trust in Leadership, Supportive Management (See Employee Engagement Chart for icon reference)

As managers, it is important to demonstrate personal consideration for your team. The idea that feelings should be separated from work is an outdated principle, and frankly, impossible to achieve. Life doesn’t pause during the 40+ hours in the workweek, so it’s important to understand how employees are really doing. Plus, helping your employees learn to articulate their emotions can lead to healthier relationships, greater wellbeing, and better resilience in and out of work. 

During 1-on-1 meetings with your employees, don’t forget to share your feelings as well. Research by Harvard Business School professor Jeff Polzer shows the process of building trust starts with vulnerability. Sharing your emotions with employees can help create a safe environment for your people to be honest.

Ask your team member in a 1:1 meeting:

  • How are you feeling?
  • Ask how you can help, and don't assume you know what's wanted.
  • Cultivate a genuine curiosity about the individuals on your team.
    • ​How are you?
    • How do you feel your work/life balance is right now?
    • What's one thing we could change about work for you that would improve your personal life?
    • What are your hobbies? What did you do for fun in the past that you haven't had as much time for lately?

3. Creating opportunities to celebrate success

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Positive Work Environment (See Employee Engagement Chart for icon reference)

Never miss an opportunity to let your employees celebrate and even brag a little about all the things that are going well in their role. This also includes the small wins that often get overlooked because they aren’t related to top priorities. 

Another way you can increase the amount of employee recognition shared between employees is through virtual high-fives and appreciation graphics. Copy the high-five image from this webpage, or an appreciation image from the Show Appreciation page and send recognition to team members. Additionally, consider developing a “kudos” channel in Slack or a shared Google sheet to track and celebrate wins!

Ask your team:

  • What's going well in your role? Any wins this week?

4. Surfacing barriers or challenges for team solving

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Positive Work Environment, Meaningful Work (See Employee Engagement Chart for icon reference)

Too often, people feel the only way to approach problems is to resolve them by themselves. Nothing feels better than helping others.  Yale Professor, Dr. Laurie Santos’ research shows that helping others boosts happiness. Ask team members to surface challenges they’re facing with their work/projects and solicit ideas from others. This not only boosts happiness, but it builds stronger team relationships and creates a psychologically safe space for employees to share their issues and work together to solve them.

Ask your team:

  • What challenges are you facing?

5. Supporting work and career

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Growth Opportunity, Meaningful Work (See Employee Engagement Chart for icon reference)

The research of positive psychology is clear: employee satisfaction is a precursor to success and accomplishment, not the other way around.  When employees feel fulfilled, they not only come up with better solutions, but their satisfaction also helps to build a culture of high performance and low turnover. Continuously asking these questions will help you understand their engagement levels and send the message that they’re valued beyond their performance.

Ask your team member in a 1:1 meeting:

  • What is your favorite part of your job? Why is that?
  • What is your least favorite part of you job? Why is that?
  • When do you feel most productive and motivated when working?
  • How do you think your work impacts our team and the university?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how fulfilled are you? Why?
  • What drives you? What motivates you to do your work each day?

6. Building rapport while working remotely

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Trust in Leadership, Supportive Management, Positive Work Environment (See Employee Engagement Chart for icon reference)

We are in very unusual times with most, if not all, our employees working remotely. Working remotely makes building connections and engaging employees even more difficult. Even a few extra minutes at the beginning or end of every call can help you make a personal connection with them. It will help improve your working relationship and build trust over time.

Ask your team:

  • What helps you feel connected to others while we all work remotely?
  • Do you feel like we have opportunities for "water cooler" type discussion with the team to help you spur on ideas?
  • What about our team/organization/Stanford do you want to learn more about?
  • How well do you feel you know your coworkers?
  • When you have a creative idea or epiphany, what do you do with that? (The kinds of things that would get openly discussed in a office could be missing!)

​One on ones are a great opportunity to build rapport with remote employees, so you need to make them count. For that reason, one on ones with remote employees should tend to be longer. For one, give yourself more time for small talk. One on ones are your only time to learn about your remote employees on a personal level, which is important given they tend to have more feelings of loneliness according to researchers.

Ask your team member in a 1:1 meeting:

  • What has been your favorite part about working remotely? (Understand what drives them.)
  • What were the most challenging and surprising things you've experienced while working remotely? What creative solutions have you come up with to tackle these surprises?
  • What's the most challenging for you in your daily work routine?

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