5 Ways to Improve Employee Engagement at Your Water Lab

When a business fosters a highly engaged workforce, it can reduce turnover, increase productivity, and improve overall profitability. Water labs are no exception, so how can you get employees more excited about work?

First, let's take a look at what being an engaged employee really means: Engagement is a business concept that describes how enthusiastic and connected employees are to their jobs. According to Gallup, workers across industries typically fall into three categories:

  • "Engaged" employees feel enthusiastic about their work and are committed to their workplace. They will go above and beyond. At your lab, they might volunteer to take on new tasks or stay late to finish testing, if necessary.
  • "Not engaged" employees are satisfied with their jobs but feel disconnected from their workplace. They operate on autopilot and fulfill basic work requirements. They would consider leaving their lab for a slightly better offer.
  • "Actively disengaged" employees feel miserable at work. They act out by skipping work, doing a sloppy job, withdrawing, and missing deadlines.

In other words, the superstars you rely on to get the job done — even under stressful or rushed circumstances — are your most engaged employees. Workers who are chronically late or often make mistakes in the lab are your actively disengaged employees.

Everyone else lands in your not engaged group, and these are the workers you should spend the most attention on if you want a more engaged team overall.

Encouraging Engagement at Work

When you're trying to encourage staff, it can be tempting to focus your energy on the employees who stand out — either positively or negatively. In reality, it's likely a waste of your time trying to drag someone out of the actively disengaged group. At best, they'll become "not engaged." Plus, many actively disengaged workers are already looking for another job.

Don't neglect your most engaged employees, either. Continue to reward their hard work with raises and promotions to maintain their engagement and support their growth. Be careful about too much public praise, though, because playing favorites can actually spark disengagement in others.

Focusing on those not engaged is your best bet at boosting workplace engagement. Yes, these employees are doing the bare minimum, but lab managers can coach them to achieve better results. A webinar by Mayo Clinic Laboratories recommends the following five tips for lab managers looking to keep their staff happy and motivated.

1. Don't Resort to Incentives

You're probably familiar with the incentives used to motivate employees: money, titles, prime parking spots, or exciting office events. While these perks are wonderful, you can engage employees without tapping into your resources.

In general, if the actions you take as a manager align with your employees' psychological needs, they'll likely become more engaged at work. According to Gallup, these needs include:

  • Using their strengths every day
  • Continuously having opportunities to learn and develop
  • Understanding the purpose of their work
  • Contributing toward a goal as part of a larger team

2. Communicate the Lab's Mission

Employees will become more engaged if they understand how their tasks contribute to the lab's purpose. Go out of your way to tell staff when they're doing a good job, and be specific about how their behaviors contribute to the lab's mission. This positive feedback will give them a sense of fulfillment and soften the blow when you need to deliver constructive feedback.

Add meaning to their work by underlining the company's mission, vision, and values. While lab techs are preparing samples, remind them that they're working to ensure that water is safe enough for public health and the environment.

3. Increase Face-to-Face Time

Make an effort to walk through the lab periodically to check in with staff. You could also try scheduling formal lab huddles in the workspace. These should be quick meetings — no more than 10 minutes — where you talk about any pressing issues and reiterate the lab's vision and strategy. For example, if you need to make a change in a standard operating procedure, explain why during this time.

4. Lean on Your Staff

Lab huddles are also a great time for problem-solving. Ask your staff if they're facing any particular challenges that week, and resist the urge to fix everything yourself. Instead, ask the group to brainstorm solutions. Listen to your team and put their ideas in place when possible, and explain instances where you can't.

One of the best ways to improve engagement is through delegation. It may take more time to explain a task than to do it yourself, but the payoff is worth it. Employees gain confidence when they're entrusted with important tasks, and you'll free up time for yourself by delegating such projects.

When delegating, make sure to clearly outline what you need — and why you need it. For example, instead of saying, "Reduce safety incidents in the lab," ask an employee to analyze why they're happening.

5. Encourage Teamwork

When you're onboarding new employees, assign them a buddy. By pairing a new employee with a veteran technician during training, it encourages the sharing of need-to-know technical knowledge and helps the new hire develop a rapport with the team they're joining.

Always encourage your team to solve problems together. For example, if you're aiming to improve a certain process, don't tell your team how to fix it. Instead, ask for suggestions. Lab managers can convey strategic initiatives, while veteran techs know the technical and operational sides of the job. Including newcomers in these conversations is helpful, because they'll learn from others and can bring fresh, valuable approaches to the table.

Just by taking these small steps toward improving employee engagement, lab managers will be rewarded with a team that's more united and engaged.

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Kelly McSweeney
Science and Technology Writer
Armed with a master's degree in writing and a decade of professional work in scientific publishing, Kelly McSweeney writes about science and technology innovations. She translates complicated topics into stories that capture the curiosity of everyone from casual readers to technical experts. Kelly has degrees from Emerson College and the University of Vermont, and has worked on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics publications at Wiley, In Compliance magazine, and Pearson. Her articles about the latest research are published by ZDNet, Northrop Grumman, and Wiley.