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A change of plan can increase employee engagement

Last updated on
June 21, 2018

Work disengagement is a sign of lost power, so it makes sense that one of the best ways to increase employee engagement is from the bottom-up. Research has shown that creating a simple daily plan can provide enough structure to keep employees engaged and in control. But beware: using the wrong type of plan can actually make you even more disengaged.

How planning impacts employee engagement

New research published in The Journal of Applied Psychology has shown that making a daily plan for each work day can increase employee engagement – but only if the “right” type of plan for the situation is used. The investigation considered time management planning (making a prioritized list of tasks to complete) and contingent planning (making a list to deal with anticipated obstacles), and tested both against the levels of interruption people face at work.

Time management planning showed a strong positive effect on employee engagement and productivity on days when people faced limited interruption – but it actually proved to be completely ineffective on highly disrupted days (about 20% of the time). An unfulfilled time management plan can serve to upset your employees and limit their sense of progress.

In contrast, contingent planning was shown to boost employee engagement on disruptive days, regardless of the amount of interruption people faced. Having a highly flexible plan like this can really help employees adapt to changing circumstances without getting frustrated, even when they haven’t anticipated every single interruption.

Creating a plan that increases employee engagement

To boost our own engagement, we need to get better at knowing when to use time management planning and contingency planning. Using both interchangeably allows you to structure your work in a way that is realistic and achievable, while using the right mental model for your work environment. Here are a few things you can do to get there:

Consider each work day in advance

Manage your expectations for each day by factoring in pre-planned interruptions – like scheduled meetings, calls, travel, events and personal commitments. Few distractions? Go ahead and make a time management plan! Interruption central? Factor in distractions and carve out the areas where you have space to focus.

Record where distractions occur

This is essential for dealing with all those interruptions you weren’t expecting. Tracking daily distractions helps you understand the reason for lost productivity and leaves you better placed to address them. While some may reveal a simple pattern, others might be structural in nature (e.g. poor process, unfair expectations, weak company culture).

Create distraction-free days

As much as your role and schedule will allow it, plan for uninterrupted stretches for mentally-intense productive work. This could be as simple as regularly blocking out periods for “deep work” in your calendar, or setting availability expectations for office communications like Slack and email.

Use digital tools to make planning easier

When you’re already disengaged, you don’t want to spend extra energy on self-admin. Luckily, you don’t have too! Digital tools like Timely make it easy to track what you do with your time and where you get distracted. They can pull all your calendar events into one space for easy scheduling and time management.

Timely can automatically track everything you work on – without the need for timers – so you can clearly see an accurate summary of where your time goes. It even records the time you spend travelling and making calls, so you know where meetings overrun and where a phone call pulled you away from your work.

The idea is to spend as little time and effort managing the one universal currency we all want to get better at spending. Just make sure you trial any time management app you’re considering thoroughly first to ensure it actually fits into your workflow.

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