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Six Tips to Improve Staff Engagement

Deliver on staff needs and they will deliver on the lab’s mission

Scott D. Hanton, PhD

Scott Hanton is the editorial director of Lab Manager. He spent 30 years as a research chemist, lab manager, and business leader at Air Products and Intertek. He earned...

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Employee engagement is the secret sauce that enables great labs to perform at very high levels. Engaged lab staff will provide significantly greater focus, attention to detail, and discretionary effort. Labs with significantly higher staff engagement will outperform labs lacking in staff engagement in retention, productivity, safety, and quality metrics.

Improving employee engagement is about spending time and effort getting to know your people and helping them be successful. Most of the actions to build engagement require no budget and no approvals, just some of your time. Here are six tips that will help you improve employee engagement with your staff:

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Trusting relationships

Demonstrate that you care about the people comprising your staff. Treat them like humans, rather than resources. Listen to their needs, concerns, and worries. Follow through on your commitments to them. Build and retain trust through your words and actions.

Clear expectations

Provide clear goals and objectives so that everyone understands exactly what is expected of them, and how they can win in their roles. The best objectives are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely (SMART). Review those objectives regularly and renegotiate them when new situations arise and priorities change.

 Praise and recognition

Unfortunately, most lab managers are focused on the problems and issues in the lab. To improve engagement, spend some time each day praising the people who demonstrated success and recognize everyone for their efforts on behalf of the lab. Engaging with staff means interacting with them as people, not as rows in a project spreadsheet. People need to be seen and appreciated to be engaged.


Provide constructive feedback with the intent of helping staff improve. Being an effective coach is part of the lab manager role. Take time to walk through the lab and interact with the staff in their environment. Share your observations and experience with them in ways that help them grow and develop. Provide clear and specific guidance to help them. Anyone can criticize; it takes someone who cares to help find a better way or a solution to a problem.

Focus on strengths

Get to know your staff and learn where their strengths are. Craft roles that take advantage of these strengths. The more people work in their strengths, the more successful and satisfied they will be. The majority of everyone’s role needs to be in areas that correspond to their strengths. Be flexible about how roles are defined to take advantage of people’s strengths. When building a development plan, emphasize their strengths. Most people will gladly grow their strengths and will be reluctant to work on their weaknesses. Help them become the best version of themselves that they can be.


Help each staff member grow and develop. Provide training and opportunity to drive professional growth. Enable everyone to see how they continue to contribute to the lab as the future unfolds. Develop multiple paths for development through internal cross-training, external training, and individual learning. Prioritize a training budget to provide external sources of training. Include a development plan aimed at professional growth for every member of staff every year as part of the performance management process.

As these core staff needs get addressed, their engagement will increase.

The key is prioritizing some time to interact with each member of staff in effective ways, so that you are delivering on their needs while they deliver for the lab’s key stakeholders. The better you take care of your staff, the better they will deliver for the lab. Investing in your people is one of the keys to developing a high-performance lab.

Looking to enhance team engagement? Our Lab Management Certificate offers comprehensive training to empower your leaders in effectively leading and managing your labs.

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