Guide to Employee Engagement: Action Steps for Supervisors

The following action steps ideas for supervisors to help keep employees engaged while they safely distance on campus or work away from “the office.” Detailed descriptions are included below to give supervisors ideas to put into action.

  1. Take care of yourself and encourage others to do the same.
  2. Take care for one another.
  3. Prioritize communication.
  4. Set clear expectations.
  5. Promote continuous learning.
  6. For remote workers, use technology to build a sense of community.
  7. Encourage work-Life balance.
  8. Stay connected with UO.

1. Take care of yourself and encourage others to do the same.

Before you can take care of other people, you must first take care of yourself.

  • Stay healthy. Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching your face; cough/sneeze into a tissue or your sleeve; disinfect frequently-touched objects and surfaces, etc.
  • Get adequate sleep and exercise.
  • Take a lunch break and other breaks throughout the day - go for a walk around the block and get fresh air.
  • Be mindful of your emotional wellbeing and seek support, as needed. Canopy, the university's employee assistance program, is available to you too as an employee and supervisor.

Integrate the “taking care of yourself strategies” in your work group by:

  • Reinforcing the value of self-care in your interactions with employees.
    • Ask an employee how they are doing when you have one-on-one meetings, and then take the time to listen to what they have to say.
      • Feeling heard helps people feel valued as a person and communicates that “they matter.”
      • Using this practice regularly helps you recognize changes overtime.
      • If someone shares a difficulty, do not feel pressure to fix it in the moment.
        If it is a workplace issue, explore what you can and need to do by consulting your supervisor or Employee and Labor Relations.
        If it is a personal life issue, maintain appropriate boundaries and direct the employee to resources such as the employee assistance program.
    • Remind employees individually the importance of self-care and encourage them to take action.
    • Share, as appropriate, strategies you use to keep yourself energized and recharge when needed.
  • Making time in meetings for employees to be people and share with one another.
    • Exchanging thoughts and ideas reminds employees that they are not alone in their experiences.
    • Employees can glean from one another strategies for looking out for themselves.
    • Creating the space and time for employees to share promotes team building and allows them to get to know each other a little better as people not just co-workers.
    • Unstructured conversations about how people are doing often leads to light-hearted moments of fun and levity that can relieve pressure in ways a supervisor could never achieve on their own.
  • Promote opportunities for physical and mental wellness.

2. Take care for one another.

Connect with other supervisors.

Supervisors serve a unique and critical role at the university. It is an important, and sometimes challenging, responsibility. Connecting with other supervisors and building a support network helps you feel less isolated and creates a safe space to learn from one another, share best practices, and develop supervisory skills.

Protect the pond – Looking after the flock.

The university relies on a suite of safety strategies when providing in-person, on campus instruction, activities, and services and operating mostly in person. Key to our success is successfully implementing resumption plans, policies, and regulations, and supporting our employees along the way. Please take the following actions:

  • Stay informed and apprised of policies, procedures, and safety regulations by regularly visiting the UO COVID-19 Safety Resources website.
  • Educate employees and set expectations with employees.
  • Model expectations.
  • Coach employees into compliance. Use discussion and retraining first to achieve compliance rather than consequence or reprimand. They are much better motivators and foster a positive learning culture.

Model kindness and forgiveness.

The employees you supervise take their cues from you. Your actions set the tone and expectations for your work group:

Discuss personal matters with an employee without getting too personal.

We know that employees who feel seen, heard, respected, and appreciated by their supervisor perform better and are more satisfied at work. This means building a professional relationship with your employees that is personal yet appropriate. It is particularly important to recognize the pressure our employees may be under as they are searching for ways to effectively manage their work-life balance. We can do this by acknowledging their experience and engaging in a dialog to establish work arrangements and set expectations that serve both the employee and the university.

Learning to navigate these types of discussions is key to demonstrating the principle of “taking care of one another,” and when managed sincerely, and appropriately, builds trust and rapport with an employee. Here are some tips and tricks to help connect on a personal level with the employees you supervise while remaining professional and maintaining appropriate boundaries:

  • Keep personal wellbeing regularly on the radar with individuals and teams by providing space and time for people to talk about their own life outside of work and creating a team environment which encourages healthy self-care.
  • Regularly include a brief discussion about how the employee is feeling about their work-life balance in your one-on-one meetings with employees. Model the appropriateness of this discussion by mentioning challenges you have faced as well as successes.
  • Listen compassionately and respectfully when an employee shares information about their personal life or personal obligations. Be a present and active listener without comparing their situation to yours.
  • Validate their feelings and the challenges they are facing by relaying back what you hear them share with you. Refrain from asking follow-up questions that probe further into the employee’s personal circumstances. You can offer compassion and validation without knowing the details of the situation.
  • Engage the employee in a conversation to explore what, if any, options are available to adjust their work-life to allow for greater balance between their work responsibilities and their personal obligations. Including the employee in the discussion encourages them to play an active role in seeking solutions and generates ideas for you to consider further. Frame the conversation as an exploration reserving the opportunity to confirm or finalize a plan at a later time.
  • Be flexible and creative. With an outcome-based mindset, you can reevaluate the structure, schedule, and assignments for an employee’s position and their roles and responsibilities potentially identifying innovative ways to empower the employee to meet their workplace obligations while also attending to their personal needs. Consider flexible work schedules and remote work options as tools to meeting employees where they are during this challenging time.
  • Encourage employees to take time off for self-care and to take care of personal obligations. When possible, and without compromising the work of your unit, allow employees to periodically take time during the day to attend a meeting with their child’s teacher, take an elderly parent to a medical appointment, or use accrued leave time to take care of their own well-being.
  • Note that it is normal for employees to struggle during this time, that this challenge has affected all of us in different ways, and that the university has resources available for employees should they need help. Direct employees to the COVID-19 resources for faculty and staff, which includes information on the employee assistance program, flexible arrangements and remote work, employee leaves, and other UO support resources.

Counter stigma and stand against racism.

The sensitivity of issues related to stigma and racism often lead to avoiding these topics in the workplace. Rather than avoiding, you are encouraged to lean in and address them directly with your team. Setting explicit expectations that reinforce our institutional values and reinforcing discrimination prevention strategies is an excellent first step. Additionally, seek out resources and suggestions for engaging your employees in meaningful discussions and creating a safe space for sharing and learning:

3. Prioritize communication.

Remember that communication is a two-way street. Take the time to listen to any concerns employees may have.

  • The COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation, and many employees may be feeling overwhelmed or anxious. If they express concerns along those lines, evaluate whether there's anything you can do to help mitigate those feelings.
  • Remote employees may start to feel isolated, so it's important to remind them that they're not alone, especially during these uncertain times.
  • Encourage employees to utilize resources available to them for support and assistance with their mental and physical wellness such as Canopy, formerly called Cascade Centers,our employee assistance program provider, health insurance resources, community outreach, and professional development opportunities.

Employees working remotely can feel disconnected from information and can often feel like they are out of the loop. Concerted effort to communicate regularly can help alleviate feelings of disconnect.

  • Consider scheduling a daily check-in to see how employees are doing with this new working arrangement and if you can do anything to help them perform their work.
  • Be sure to communicate any important university or unit news as it presents itself.
  • Keep an eye and ear out for communication among team members (to the extent appropriate) to encourage and ensure that they are sharing information with each other as needed.

4. Set clear expectations.

Clarity gives employees guidance and empowers them during periods of uncertainty. Clearly communicate your expectations with care and kindness. Employees appreciate knowing expectations and are motivated to meet them.

  • If you want employees to be in the "office" or online during specific hours of the day, communicate that.
  • If you want a regular report of what they are working on, be sure to ask.
  • Let your employees know the best way and time to reach you during the workday (e.g., “I tend to be more available late in the day for ad hoc phone or video conversations, but if there’s an urgent need earlier in the day, feel free to send me a text.”)

Be mindful that many employees may be experiencing significant transition in both personal and professional aspects of their lives. Be patient and understanding with your employees. Encourage them to take paid time off if they need it during these times to tend to their other responsibilities.

5. Promote continuous learning.

Continuous learning is a key component of employee engagement. Opportunities for personal and professional development through training are an effective way to keep employees interested in their work and enhance retention.

You can promote a culture of continuous learning by:

  • Setting learning and professional development goals with employees and integrating those goals into the performance review process.
  • Engage employees in group conversations about learning experiences and successful ways that they have continued to learn on-the-job.
  • Encourage employees to participate in learning and professional development opportunities and create space and time in their schedule to allow for their participation.
  • Promoting LinkedIn Learning as continuous learning tool and sharing relevant trainings with employees through the LinkedIn Learning platform.
  • Model continuous learning by sharing new knowledge you obtain from professional development activities you attend and lessons learned from recently completed work or projects.

The following resources offer ideas for promoting continuous learning in the workplace and provide additional insight into the relationship between continuous learning and job satisfaction:

6. For remote workers, use technology to build a sense of community.

Employees tend to be more engaged when they feel like they're part of a team, and you may be operating in a hybrid model with some employees in the office and some working remotely. Find ways to keep employees connected and included. As a manager, take responsibility for making sure employees understand that even though they may not all be in the office together, you're all working together toward the same common goal.

You can encourage a collaborative team culture employees by:

  • Conducting hybrid meetings so those working remotely are included. Here is an article with ideas for running a great hybrid meeting.
  • Encouraging team members to have their camera on when participating in meetings virtually; this helps build a sense of connection and allows you to read body language if someone has questions or is disengaged in the conversation.
  • Purposefully leaving space at the start of meetings for small talk.
  • Encouraging habits that support personal well-being and finding creative ways to connect — posting pet photos on a Teams channel, hosting a virtual group lunch, initiating a virtual run/walk — will go a long way toward sustaining a positive outlook.

7. Encourage Work-Life balance.

Be understanding and flexible to allow for employees to meet their work and home obligations in a way that works for their circumstances. Remember, that everyone is contending with the COVID-19 on multiple front that impact them both personally and professionally. Many employees have children or other loved ones that require care, routines are disrupted, and there are other distractions. Refer employees to the work-life section of the HR website for resources and assistance.

Remote employees may have difficulty establishing a healthy work-life balance right now. Since there may be less physical separation between their workspace and their personal space, employees may feel like they need to be available for work 24/7, which can lead to unnecessary stress and, eventually, burnout.

  • Communicate to your employees the importance of creating boundaries.
  • Suggest that they work their normal hours and then step away from the computer until it's time to start working the next day.

8. Stay connected with UO.

Take pride in our campus community and the awesome work taking place all around by taking time to share the good news with your team. Reflecting on the bright spots reinforces a sense of pride for being a Duck.