Have you talked with with your employees today?
Not e-mailed, not texted – but actually had a real-time face-to-face conversation with any of your direct reports?
If the answer is “no,” you’re not alone. Demanding travel schedules, telecommuting, and increased responsibilities – not to mention the global nature of many businesses – make it hard for leaders to personally connect with their team members on a frequent basis.
But if you find yourself regularly out of communication for days – or even weeks – at a time, keeping your employees motivated and engaged can become a real challenge.
Many leaders struggle with how to strike the right balance. Spend too much time with your team, and you’re micromanaging. Give them too much autonomy, and you’re out of touch. A recent survey of 32,000 people from research firm Leadership IQ suggests that six hours a week spent interacting with your direct reports may be the “magic number.”
Researchers found a strong correlation between time spent with a direct supervisor and employee engagement. Notably, employees who spent six hours a week interacting with their direct supervisor were 29 percent more inspired about their work, 30 percent more engaged, 16 percent more innovative, and 15 percent more intrinsically motivated than their peers who spent only one hour a week with their immediate manager. But, after six hours, results more or less flat-lined, suggesting that while employees need quality time with their boss, they also need time to work independently.
Spending enough quality time with direct reports is a real area of concern facing large companies. While research suggests that 5 to 7 direct reports is the maximum number an executive should supervise, the trend toward flatter organizations has many leaders taking on 5 to 10 times that number. And when that happens, staying connected and engaged becomes exponentially more difficult.
We believe the important take-away from this study is, that while six hours may be optimal, every chance that you have to connect personally makes a difference. The good news is that time with your team members doesn’t have to be overly contrived and formal to be effective.
Phone calls, video chats, working breakfasts/lunches, quick catch-ups during coffee breaks, small-group meetings, and other forums that allow for two-way communication can be just as meaningful as a long, private conversation.
And, while many of us are prone to late-night and weekend e-mails, this is actually the least effective way to win the hearts and minds of your team. In fact, the survey found that the less-engaged employees – those who spent only one hour a week communicating with their bosses – mainly did so via email. The more engaged peers spent almost half of their six hours a week in actual conversations.
What’s the difference? E-mail is a one-way conversation. You don’t get the subtext – the nonverbal clues – that reveal how people are really feeling about their roles and challenges as well as the organization and your leadership. And you miss out on the probing questions and coaching that can happen in real-time conversations.
Sure – we get that you may trust your team to get the job done without close oversight and supervision. But you won’t know how they are feeling, what they need to succeed, and what they are truly capable of without giving them enough of your time and attention.