According to Don Warkentin, director of training for Dale Carnegie Central New Jersey, there are many things a manager can do to keep employees engaged in their work. But they all boil down to treating them with basic human decency.

“When managers are perceived as caring about their employees, you find employees are far more engaged,” he says. “When I think back to my years working, the managers I worked the hardest for were the managers who cared about me as a person, who got to know something about me outside of work. Managers who did that, well, I worked incredibly hard for those individuals.”

Warkentin will present a free two-hour course on “How Smart Leaders Create Engaged Employees” on Tuesday, December 1, from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. at the Dale Carnegie Training Center at 1 AAA Drive, Suite 102, in Hamilton. For more information, visit centralnj.dalecarnegie.com or call 609-631-0500.

Warkentin recalls one summer during college, when he worked for a Mercer Street Friends youth program. The group was taking kids on a trip to a reservoir in Hunterdon County about an hour away. On the way up, he and his boss, Rev. William Ingram, chatted about their plans for later in the day. “I was probably 20 years old at the time, and it was my birthday,” Warkentin says. “My parents were going to take me out to dinner that night. Reverend Ingram personally drove me back from the trip so I could get home in time for dinner with my parents. I worked hard for that manager because he took care of me as a person.”

Warkentin grew up outside of Philadelphia and later moved to Hunterdon County, where his father was director of a laboratory hospital and his mother was a homemaker. He went to Trenton State College (now The College of New Jersey) where he was an education and sociology double major. After working for Big Brothers and Big Sisters for several years, he became involved in training, and decided to make his career in that field, but in a corporate setting instead of nonprofits.

He has been at it for about 18 years, but still hasn’t forgotten those lessons about management he learned in his early career. The Dale Carnegie program came to a very similar conclusion when it hired research firm MSW to conduct a survey on employee engagement. The survey found that highly engaged employees had three things in common: A good relationship with their immediate supervisors; belief in and respect for the organization’s senior leadership; and pride in working for the company.

“We focus on the role of an immediate manager,” Warkentin says. “There are some things you can do to create more engaged employees.” Most of it is using common sense which, Warkentin says, often turns out to be not very common at all.

Warkentin says many managers start off with good intentions but that compassion can sometimes go by the wayside amid the stress of meeting objectives on deadlines.

“If you’re really busy one day on a project, and the phone is ringing, and an employee is really upset, you may think, `Man, I should really listen to this person,’ but you might so busy and so preoccupied that it might slip your mind to do that. I don’t think most people intend to go into the workplace to offend someone else or not listen to someone else, but we’re just so busy.”

Another barrier to good engagement is technology, Warkentin says.

“I’m a huge technology fan, but sometimes technology gets in the way. I often have times when I might be in my office and one of my colleagues might be 20 feet away in another office, and we’ll E-mail back and forth instead of meeting face to face.” In this way, he says, co-workers can become like the families you sometimes see in restaurants where everyone is eating together but staring silently at their phones instead of talking to each other.

Warkentin recommends that managers take the time to get to know their employees personally and to ask them questions to show that they actually care as human beings. He also suggests giving employees as much input as possible into decisions. People who feel their input is valued tend to also feel more involved in projects. Lastly, he said, it’s important to communicate the goals of the organization and keep the employees informed about what is happening and why.

But mostly it boils down to treating people as you would like to be treated.

“The root of employee engagement is being a decent person and treating people with respect. It’s amazingly simple but sometimes very challenging,” he said.

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