In this interview, Kate Pritchard, director of the Engagement Advantage, explains how leadership behaviours can increase employee engagement in the workplace.

Employee turnover is one of the most common HR challenges faced by organisations today. But why do employees decide to quit their job? Studies highlight that team leaders are often cited as one of the main reasons why employees decide to quit their jobs. According to James K. Harter, chief scientist for workplace management at Gallup, at least 75 percent of the reasons why employees leave the company come down to things that managers can influence. In comparison, only 12% of professionals quit their job to get a higher salary elsewhere. So yes, it’s not all about money!

As David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom highlighted it in the article 10 Shocking Workplace Stats You Need to Know, “People don’t leave companies. They leave bosses.” So how can team leaders positively affect employee motivation and engagement in the workplace? What makes a “good” leader? What are the best communication practices? We went through these questions with Kate Pritchard, leadership coach and employee engagement consultant:

Hi Kate, you are a consultant specialised in leadership management and employee engagement. Can you tell us more about your background, what’s your story?

I have spent most of my career helping businesses to understand and improve employee engagement. For many years I have specialised in the measurement of employee engagement, which has enabled me to get a great understanding of what is important to people at work. I have had the opportunity to work with a large number of managers and leadership teams, helping them to improve employee engagement.

profile photo of kate pritchard

I have also been a senior leader managing busy teams, and in these roles I was very conscious of the importance of balancing my various priorities – keeping focused on the people in my teams as well as delivering on my formal objectives.

I trained to be a coach so that I could offer more support to leaders. I recognise that managers and leaders are critical to employee engagement, yet often have so much going on that they are unable to give their teams the focus they deserve. Coaching can really help leaders to refocus and improve both their performance and that of their teams.

According to you, what are the impacts of leadership styles on employee engagement?

Leadership style can have a massive impact on employee engagement, and I think that often leaders are unaware that how they behave has such a big influence on employees.

Those leaders who regularly interact with their employees and who focus on building relationships, developing their teams and listening to their concerns find it easier to engender trust and this can make a huge difference. Leaders who are naturally task-focused may be less inclined to interact with their teams, but it is important that all leaders make a conscious effort to focus on their people to build employee engagement.

Related: Jon Ingham on Creating a Culture of Employee Engagement

How would you define a “good” leader, which leadership styles can improve employee engagement?

I don’t think there is a single definition of a good leader – I know many good leaders who are vastly different from each other. It is really important that leaders are authentic, staying true to who they really are rather than pretending to be someone they are not.

But good leaders do need to be good communicators – communicating regularly and being consistent, open and honest in their communications.

“To improve engagement, leaders need to demonstrate that they care about their employees, to listen to them, involve them, and respond to their views.”

A transformational leadership style can be very effective in improving engagement. Here leaders focus on bringing people together around a common purpose, and on inspiring and empowering employees.

Communication is key to employee engagement, do you have tips team leaders could implement to communicate with their team in a more effective way?

Firstly, communicate regularly! Make it a priority, by having regular meetings in the calendar and avoid cancelling these. Be mindful of how you communicate, focusing on communicating in a clear and compelling way. Make sure meetings are a balance of sharing company information and encouraging dialogue. Ask questions to understand how employees feel and focus on really listening to what employees are saying.

two women talking in a business meeting

Show an interest in the views of your team, and respond to their concerns, following up on issues later if you cannot give an immediate response. Dialogue can of course now continue beyond meetings with the use of collaborative technology platforms but these should enhance rather than replace face-to-face communication.

Can you tell us why employees should be more encouraged to initiate discussions and share feedback with their team leaders and also with their colleagues?

This is so important. Having a strong employee voice and feedback culture is recognised as a key enabler of employee engagement.

The higher up an organisation leaders are, the less likely they are to know about issues on the front line. And in many cases, employees on the front line have solutions to the issues affecting their engagement. So employees should be encouraged to share their views as it is only through identifying issues that they can be resolved to improve the organisation for all employees. Obviously this can only work effectively if managers are open to hearing from employees and taking action on feedback. Not listening to employees or ignoring their feedback will reduce employee engagement.

“It is also useful for colleagues to share feedback and ideas with each other.”

It is great when employees are empowered to work together to find solutions, rather than there being an assumption that management are the only group who can make change. This requires a collaborative and trusting leadership style.

How do you see leadership evolving in the workplace in the upcoming years?

The workplace continues to change rapidly. Organisational structures are becoming flatter and flexible working is becoming more common. Leadership will become increasingly about influencing rather than telling, with leaders being great collaborators who connect people and ideas – bringing people together by empowering and trusting them.

I hope we will also see more leaders as coaches, embedding a coaching culture into their organisation, which will support innovation, skills development and employee engagement.

About Kate: Kate is an employee engagement consultant and leadership coach with over 20 years of experience in the field of employee research and consultancy. She has operated at Board level and in senior people management roles in companies such as ORC International and People Insight Ltd. She is an accomplished researcher, facilitator, trainer and presenter, and an ICF approved coach. Kate is the director of the Engagement Advantage helping organisations to improve employee engagement through research, consultancy and leadership coaching. Kate’s next webinar From Engagement Survey to Engaging Workplace will be hosted on March, 15th.

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