Boost Employee Engagement and Support Your Staff by Reconnecting With the Bench

As a water lab manager, you know what it's like to spend time on the bench. And while you're leading the charge now, losing sight of what that was like is a surefire way to create discord between you and your staff. So how can you support your team, boost employee engagement, and keep your business running smoothly when you're being pulled in so many directions? Start by reconnecting with the bench.

Spending time alongside the staff that now does the testing shows you're the kind of manager who doesn't just lead, but who makes decisions in the best interest of employees. Even if you don't think you have enough hours in the day to properly connect with bench workers, a little bit of effort can go a long way.

Here are four ways you can connect with the bench, even when you're short on time.

1. Start the Day With a Casual Staff Meeting

Jessica Jensen, technical director of Meridian Analytical Labs, starts her day with a casual staff meeting that she calls "the morning unwind." There's no agenda, but plenty of conversation and coffee. "It's a very fluid staff meeting where we just kind of talk about everything that's going on that day," Jensen says.

A casual morning gathering is a great way to encourage employee engagement and connect with your staff on a personal level. Bring an occasional treat, such as bagels or coffee, to show you appreciate their hard work. Being a personable manager is about finding a balance between being a boss and a colleague. So mix friendly conversation with talking about what's going on in the lab.

2. Get Hands-On With Internal Audits

Internal audits are a great opportunity to work alongside lab technicians. Jensen has a monthly schedule for reviewing standard operating procedures (SOPs). Each month, she reviews a different SOP to ensure it's written properly and to double-check that employees are following all the steps.

"When I'm reviewing the SOPs, I actually make myself do the test because the SOP should be written so that somebody with remedial knowledge of the test could perform it," she says. "And if there's a step that I don't understand, then there's something wrong."

With her monthly internal audit schedule, Jensen reviews every single test at least once every year. This helps her understand the challenges that her staff faces every day.

By getting hands-on with audits, you accomplish two things simultaneously: You get to keep in touch with benchwork while also checking off a task from your management to-do list. "I'm a big fan of killing two birds with one stone," says Jensen.

3. Troubleshoot at the Bench

When an analyst comes to you with a test problem, go to the bench for troubleshooting. After spending a long time looking at something, people tend to experience blind spots. Providing a fresh set of eyes will not only help your technicians out, but it can go a long way in preserving the quality of the work your lab produces.

"When we have proficiency test failures, I go back to the bench and do it with them a lot of times," Jensen says. "Sometimes you can't really understand what they're trying to explain to you unless you integrate yourself in the problem."

By actually doing the test yourself, you may discover that analysts are cutting corners. It's human nature to want to be as efficient as possible, but if you find that crucial steps are being missed, reiterate to your employees why following them all is important.

4. Have an Open Door Policy

When you can't be at the bench, keep your office door open. Make it clear that staff members can come to you with any problem — big or small — and be willing to listen to them. Don't prioritize your busy over their busy. Even if you have a million things to do, you have to make time for your employees if you want to be a truly effective leader.

"If they're taking their time out of their busy schedule to seek you out, then you need to take time to listen to what they're talking about," Jensen says.

By making the effort to stay in the know, employees are likely to trust you more and, in turn, be more engaged. And because engaged employees tend to stay longer, work harder, and care more about the work they do, according to Entrepreneur, it's an effort worth making.

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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.