16 Ways to Improve Employee Engagement on Campus


No incentives or rewards?

Higher ed. leaders: Do you believe that it’s difficult to keep your employees engaged because you can’t give them financial incentives? Compensation is based on steps and columns. Employees are rewarded for longevity, not creativity, innovation, or performance. Standards may not be as high as you’d like. Some individuals are quick to complain to their union reps if you ask them to take more initiative (looks like having to work outside of their classification). There is no real stick or carrot; therefore employees are likely to become complacent. Does it ring true to you?

It may feel that way sometimes. If you see so many problems that you can’t see any solutions to improve employee engagement, it’s time to step back and look at factors you haven’t considered recently – or maybe ever. You might have a few bad apples on your campus but the majority of your employees will step up when you give them some encouragement.

Here are 16 ways to inspire employees to be personally invested in their work and genuinely want to contribute more to the institution. You don’t need to implement all 16 – just a few that seem appropriate for you and get ready for some positive changes!

1.     Communicate your vision and purpose in a clear and compelling way

Working in higher ed. often involves busy work and it’s easy to lose sight of the reasons we do what we do. Emphasize purpose and help your employees see the bigger picture and their role in enhancing student success (or other goals relevant to your department). Help them understand why and how their work matters. Make them feel part of something significant.

2.     Make goals and expectations clear

When goals and expectations are unclear, employees are likely to disengage and stop doing their best because they face a moving target. So make sure they know exactly what to do for their work to be praise-worthy and to get fantastic performance evaluations. Don’t assume that they already know. Be more specific to avoid misunderstandings.

3.     Create more interaction

When I am asked to deliver training on motivation, engagement, or having a positive attitude, clients often tell me “people work in silos and that creates problems.” Isolation hurts motivation and engagement. Make sure to organize activities where your employees can interact with others, develop more understanding for other departments, and work better together. Help them develop a team spirit and work together on common goals.

4.     Encourage new ideas

If you want your employees to be more engaged, consider adding a “new ideas” agenda item for your staff meetings. Or if you think people will be uncomfortable sharing in public, encourage speaking up in one-on-one meetings, or have a “new ideas box” where people can contribute anonymously. Be proactive, give your employees a voice, show that you care, and you won’t need a climate survey that often brings to light decades of built-up resentment and frustration.

5.     Make people feel heard and appreciated

Never be dismissive. Make sure to reply to emails and other messages, even if briefly. Please realize that when people make an effort then get shut down, they are taught to disengage. Engagement should not be ignored when you are busy. If it is a priority for you, be consistent in the ways you listen and provide positive reinforcement.

6.     Provide encouraging feedback

Have regular meetings and don’t wait for performance reviews to discuss how well your employees are doing. Regular feedback and encouragement will make a huge difference. Make employee appreciation and recognition a priority. Foster a culture of openness and trust. Build confidence and you will see more engagement.

7.     Explain disappointing decisions

When you have to make decisions that you know won’t be popular, instead of being secretive at the risk of hurting trust and loyalty, it’s important to communicate. You don’t have to apologize or defend yourself in any way, but you do need to explain what can be said publicly to help your employees feel included and respected.

8.     Be fair

It’s inevitable to find yourself more interested in what some people say than others, but be mindful of how people perceive your reaction. If you look like you play favorites, those who don’t feel included in your circle will get disengaged. Instead, evaluate ideas for their merit and be fair to everyone.

9.     Invest in your employees as people

Get to know your team members. Show that you care about them and not just their work performance. Take the time to discover their values, needs, aspirations, and what motivates them. When they feel seen, appreciated, and treated well, they will want to reciprocate and show a higher level of engagement. But you have to be sincere and do it for the right reasons!

10.  Give your employees what they need to be successful

Failing to provide the information, support, tools, decisions, or anything else your employees need to succeed create learned helplessness. You can’t improve employee engagement if your team members think their efforts will be worthless. No one who feels defeated will give their best. So create an environment where they will believe in their success.

11.  Create a sense of pride and ownership

Disengaged employees do not take responsibility for their work because they feel detached. Help your team members develop a sense of ownership and responsibility. Give them reasons to be proud to be part of your organization.

12.  Use accountability as motivator

The word “accountability” is not something to fear. It is essential to set goals and use metrics to be able to evaluate work performance. What gets measured gets done and what doesn’t get measured falls off people’s radars. So bring light to the metrics that matter and help people feel enormous satisfaction from seeing progress throughout the academic year.

13.  Make your employees feel safe

If you’d like your employees to show more initiative, make it safe for them to try new things. There should be no fear of punishment or ridicule for proposing new ideas. Obviously, do the best you can to avoid mistakes but understand that learning and innovation can be a trial and error process. Grow together.

14.  Strength-based organization

Assign projects and responsibilities based on strengths. When you ask people to do what they do best, they will feel more empowered and perform at a higher level than if they feel like a fish out of water. They will be more likely to have new ideas and think outside the box because of their interests and expertise.

15.  Job enrichment

Think of ways you can make your employees’ jobs more interesting. How can you reduce repetitive work? Can you use more technology and automation? Can you simplify processes to make the work less tedious? Can you give some employees new responsibilities that will help them grow and build their resumes?

16.  Invest in professional development

Employees who are engaged want to learn, grow, and make improvements. Sending them to conferences is a good start but you also need to have events on your campus with training customized to your particular needs and have your team members participate together.

If you think you don't have time to improve employee engagement, please think of how much of your time is consumed by having to deal with problems created by lack of engagement. A preventative approach to problems is the best way to reduce your workload. Do it!

If you would like me to give a presentation or deliver training on your campus, please visit this page. And if you would like to speak with me about working together on improving employee engagement and motivation, click here to schedule a free consultation. Human resources are your most important resources. Let’s treat them as such and foster high performance.

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About the author: Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, online courses, and interviews on international telesummits.  Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.