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.

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, get fresh air, play with your dog!
  • Be mindful of your emotional wellbeing and seek support, as needed. Cascade Centers, Inc. 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.

Human Resources facilitates Connections Coffee Breaks for Supervisors to connect with other supervisors, talk about your successes and challenges, and share thoughts about what might help support you in your working life. The sessions are hosted by UO colleagues who will be there to listen and to offer suggestions for related resources available to supervisors.

Learn more about Connections Coffee Breaks

Protect the pond – Looking after the flock.

The university continues to work towards a goal of expanding some in-person, on campus instruction, activities, and services over the summer and into the fall. 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 resumption policies and procedures and return-to-campus planning by regularly visiting the Return to Campus webpage.
  • Educate employees and set expectations using the Workplace Essentials Checklist.
  • 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 and services that may be applicable.

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.

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.

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 Cascade Centers, Inc., our employee assistance program provider, health insurance resources, community outreach, and professional development opportunities.

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 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.”)
  • Ensure that employees know that our workplace policies still apply. For example, non-exempt employees must continue to take meal periods and rest breaks as required, and track and submit their hours worked timely and accurately. All employees must continue to treat colleagues in a respectful manner.

Be mindful that not all employees may have an ideal telecommuting setup while daycares and schools are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 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. 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. When they're working from home, it can be hard for them to buy into that mentality. As a manager, take responsibility for making sure employees understand that even though you may not be in the office together, you're all working together toward the same common goal.

You can encourage a collaborative team culture employees by:

  • Encourage team members to have their camera on during virtual meetings; 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 virtual 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.

6. Encourage work-Life balance.

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.

Be understanding and flexible to allow for employees to meet their work and home obligations in a way that works for their circumstances. Remember, this is not a typical “work from home” situation. Many employees have children or other loved ones in the home requiring care or other distractions.

7. 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.