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How to cultivate engagement in your workforce

By Shandel McAuliffe | |6 minute read
How to cultivate engagement in your workforce

Globally, many organisations are experiencing large-scale change and being forced to rapidly adapt to ongoing disruption. The flow-on effect is increased uncertainty in the workforce, leading to employee anxiety, hypervigilance, breakdown in trust, and burnout. When staff don’t feel equipped, it can prompt a range of reactions from a decline in mental health and wellbeing to an overall impact on engagement.


Changes like a merging of roles, a change in job title or converting to a remote or hybrid working structure can be significant for those who are struggling to process broader change.

Remote working can make it harder for leaders and managers to spot the signs of stress, burnout and falling engagement in the workforce. These signs are varied and can include:

  • Extended or unusual work hours, including staff logging on very early in the morning or remaining online until late into the evening.
  • Zoom fatigue as expressed through body language, such as slumping or staff resting their head in their hands, or a regularly switched off camera.
  • Infrequent breaks or feeling pressured to be online at all hours.
  • Declining productivity, distraction and lack of concentration resulting in missed deadlines and uncharacteristic errors.

Encouraging resilience practices will aid employees in being able to successfully manage future stress and change.

Build psychological safety and leadership trust

Cultivating an environment where staff feel psychologically safe is essential for a healthy workplace. When staff have high levels of psychological safety, they are more willing to take risks and think creatively without fear of negative consequences. This encourages employees to speak up and freely share ideas.

Psychological safety cannot exist without staff being able to trust the leadership team. Leadership trust, which is grown out of connection, steadiness, compassion, integrity and purpose, manifests itself in shared confidence between leaders and teams.

Build resilience

Both individually and collectively, resilience helps us operate under pressure, maintain an optimistic outlook during periods of turbulence, navigate change with agility, and bounce forward from setbacks. The power of resilience in business is that it acts as a buffer during particularly stressful or busy periods, preparing and enabling staff to maintain balance in their lives and sustain high performance at work.

Resilience gives leaders the ability to transform businesses and reduces the risk of employees “switching off”.

Act with compassion

Having a deep focus on caring for others and the organisation’s greater good are key attributes of a compassionate leader. By practicing and nurturing compassion, leaders will help to boost morale, foster greater psychological safety, and mitigate against stress, burnout and disengagement by ensuring staff feel seen, heard, and cared for.

Check in and communicate

Nurturing communication across an organisation improves morale, collaboration and a sense of belonging. For leaders, regular check-ins can be helpful in identifying how a team is coping both physically and emotionally.

Leaders with high-trust relationships spend time listening to concerns and ideas, are better able to identify those who are suffering from stress, or feeling disconnected, and can work with employees to address the challenges they are facing.

Make time for recovery

Managing a better work-life balance helps all employees feel happier and more engaged in their work activities and promotes positive energy and emotion. This enables a workforce to enjoy tasks rather than feel overwhelmed by them. In an environment of fast-paced change, finding time to recover and reset can feel impossible. Leaders who model rest, take breaks and make use of leave entitlements set a positive example for their colleagues.

Recovery can also be encouraged through a strong employee wellbeing program. Providing information about the benefits of structured sleep, meditation practice, good diet and regular exercise will help to promote a workplace culture in which employees understand their individual health is valued. It will encourage employees to prioritise their physical and mental wellbeing outside of work, too.

As businesses battle collective fatigue in the workforce, leaders must recognise that the uncertainty is only set to continue. Enacting culture shifts to enhance psychological safety and leadership trust, while also incorporating simple practices into everyday work routines, will aid in re-engaging staff and boosting their ability to move forward with positivity in the year ahead.

Stuart Taylor is the CEO & co-founder at Springfox

Shandel McAuliffe

Shandel McAuliffe

Shandel has recently returned to Australia after working in the UK for eight years. Shandel's experience in the UK included over three years at the CIPD in their marketing, marcomms and events teams, followed by two plus years with The Adecco Group UK&I in marketing, PR, internal comms and project management. Cementing Shandel's experience in the HR industry, she was the head of content for Cezanne HR, a full-lifecycle HR software solution, for the two years prior to her return to Australia.

Shandel has previous experience as a copy writer, proofreader and copy editor, and a keen interest in HR, leadership and psychology. She's excited to be at the helm of HR Leader as its editor, bringing new and innovative ideas to the publication's audience, drawing on her time overseas and learning from experts closer to home in Australia.

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