A good leader is prepared to ask questions they may not like the answers to

To truly improve employee engagement and wellbeing, every leader must do three basic things: ask, accept, action. 

Ask 

You'd be amazed at the number of leaders I have worked with over the years who come to me with an employee engagement problem, only to find they haven't asked their staff how they are feeling or if there is anything that they need to improve their ability to do their job. 

More worryingly, some come to me to solve a problem, utterly oblivious that they have an employee engagement issue fuelling that very problem. It's not that they don't care, quite the opposite, but it demonstrates a disconnect between management and employees.

The one simple (but essential) thing leaders can do to improve employee engagement is regularly check in on staff wellbeing. Allowing employees to have their voice heard in a regular, official capacity can instantly enhance engagement; there are, of course, caveats!  

Keep wellbeing surveys quick, simple, and convenient – pick a day and time you know employees are more likely to fill it in. Importantly, employees must feel 'safe' to respond openly and honestly to avoid false and potentially misleading results. 

Accept 

Wellbeing in the workplace is a serious matter, and staff need to know that your business and its management genuinely care; this is not a tick-box exercise but something you should embed. Implement a regular feedback solution that analyses responses from your team and provides you with actionable comments to help transform your business.

Understandably, you might be nervous about responses. However, without unequivocally honest insight, you can't acknowledge, accept, or crucially take action to rectify or improve potential issues. Rebuffing or counterarguing responses sends a message that you are not listening, and a 'what's the point' attitude will develop.

Set a monthly employee engagement KPI to track over time to quickly spot and react to trends – not only by the positive or negative scores but also by the response rate. If only a tiny percentage of people even answer the questions, it indicates a disengaged team. 

Action 

You must act on feedback! 

I am not saying give employees everything they request or suggest you make massive business changes to make a few people happier but prove you have listened, probe further and ask 'why'. 

Mapping out the employee response journey is critical. If a response is positive, the action can be an automated yet personal email thanking them for participating. If a negative response is received, there should be an appropriate action plan that follows.  

Depending on the level of question and how potentially harmful the response is, this could be a red flag to a line manager to check in with this person or to follow up and dig deeper into any issues raised. Never follow up in an accusatory way; the aim here is to understand and work out a way to improve. Many negative scores have 'quick win' solutions, such as frustrations with technology or access to information. However, it can be trickier to identify the root cause of a personal grievance or behaviour issue.

My parting words of wisdom? Always follow up.  

Did offering the chance to be heard make a positive change? Have the plans put in place resolved problems? You won't always solve every niggle or concern. Still, by asking questions, actively listening, accepting feedback, and acting accordingly, you will find that employee engagement increases, and wellbeing scores improve.

Jonathan Winchester is a customer experience entrepreneur, speaker and business leader. He is the Founder and Chief Executive of insight6. For more information on how to improve your customer experience, visit www.insight6.com. Request to connect with Jonathan on LinkedIn.