While they report feeling more involved than their global counterparts, less than one-third of American professionals describe themselves as actively engaged by their work, according to a 2014 Gallup survey. How can companies encourage their employees to become more fully engaged in the workplace? Managers may hold the key. As the gatekeepers of corporate culture, they play a critical role in employee engagement; Gallup’s analysis of its results suggests that they are responsible for a whopping 70 percent of the variance in employees’ feelings of engagement. By taking steps to adjust their own behavior when interacting with their team, managers foster an atmosphere that genuinely embraces employee participation and inspires active employee engagement.

Encourage Healthy Dissent

While the days when a disagreement with the boss could lead to a date with the executioner are mostly gone, many employees are still warned that vocal dissent is professional suicide. The corporate culture of many organizations presents compliance as the path for advancement; and those employees who dare to disagree may find that they are viewed as troublemakers. Ironically, these employees are often some of the most engaged members of the workforce; they care enough to risk saying something that might damage their careers. Smart managers know that inviting healthy dissent can actually strengthen both the company and employee engagement by generating an environment where different viewpoints are respected and genuine contributions by employees are welcomed. Instead of silencing employees, these managers aid them in discovering ways use their voices effectively.

Share the Spotlight at Staff Meetings

Many employees consider staff meetings more of a necessary evil than a helpful tool. Traditionally, the person in charge determines the agenda and runs the meeting. This manager dominates the meeting, which often feels more like a series of announcements from the powers that be than a productive discussion among the staff. Even finishing the meeting with an invitation to comment or ask a question is not enough to overcome this ingrained perception because many employees assume their contribution is not truly desired. However, a willingness to share the spotlight shakes things up, encouraging a new dynamic. To truly engage employees in staff meetings, clever managers are not afraid to hand over the reins and let the employees take turns leading the meetings. By rotating the responsibility of steering the conversational ship among employees, managers can create a platform that allows a variety of voice to be heard, and the knowledge that what they contribute actually matters inspires employees to bring their professional best to the meeting.

Make Constructive Criticism Welcome

We have a saying at The Change Leader: Skeptics are our best friend. Why do we say that? Because many times, employees can identify the flaws in a prospective change to corporate policy in a glance. However, most employees rarely point them out to the management responsible because they believe their input is unwelcome – they believe that speaking their mind would be career suicide. Changing this mindset can be tough, but it is well worth the effort.

How can managers create an atmosphere where constructive criticism flourishes? Asking the right questions is key. Rather than issuing a generic invitation for comments, shrewd managers need to ask specific questions that make it clear that they want employees to be truthful and blunt. By asking what is wrong with a proposal or requesting that employees identify its weakest spot, managers can really engage with their employees and gain invaluable feedback in the process.

This also requires managers to have significant maturity, also known as EQ – emotional intelligence, but that’s the subject of another blog.

Employees are an invaluable resource, and making the most effective use of that resource requires that employees feel professionally engaged at work. For managers, leading an engaged workforce requires creating a corporate culture that welcomes the active participation of employees.