Balanced Boundaries
Want More Employee Engagement?
Try these five disciplines
By Woodrie Burich
bialasiewicz| Envato

’ve been hearing a lot about the increasing need for employee engagement in an increasingly hybrid world. Gallup recently compiled research pointing to drops in engagement the past few years and noted that it’s a hot topic at leadership tables in 2023.

If we want more engagement, we need to focus on connection first. Connection fuels us. It provides us passion and meaning. Consider how a great conversation can inspire the whole day. Or reflect on the best teams you have been lucky enough to be part of: high-performing, driven, innovative, fun to the point of uproarious laughter at times—those are the best. Both of these have something in common: meaningful connection.

A while back, I was on a coaching call with a talented man working in a Fortune 100 company (story details slightly edited to ensure confidentiality). We were reflecting on his past job departure and lessons learned from that experience. He shared how the last company he left was great, and his previous boss there had been kind, engaging, and always seemed to care about him. Before his departure, he had been reassigned to a new boss, and his new boss was different. Highly transactional and deadline driven. His boss wasn’t necessarily mean or toxic—he was actually effective and efficient—but he wasn’t connected. His boss never asked about his personal life or seemed to care how his day was. Eventually, in time the work became monotonous, dry, and boring. My client shared with me that he was craving to do more in that position—to contribute more—to engage. But instead, he left.

What’s interesting is that my client had never met any of his colleagues or supervisors in person; every single engagement with that company was through a computer screen. What was even more fascinating was the huge perspective shift that arose the moment his boss changed. It was the role of relationship that forced the departure. Not pay. Not job duties. Not workload. It was the transactional nature of the relationship that reflected a lack of engagement. Ultimately, it was loss of connection that drove this young and clever individual to a new job at a new company (lucky them).

I’m curious if the same would have occurred in an onsite job setting. I wonder if our corporate cultures are simply not translating well into hybrid spaces—and if our relationships are being severed through reduced connection points. I’m also curious what might have occurred if the organization had other efforts underway to drive connection and communication with their remote team members. Would connecting with more coworkers have helped or made a difference? I know many people who have been able to outlast cranky and difficult supervisors through the support of trusted colleagues. One might even argue that the experience made them stronger and better leaders themselves.

Luckily, as leaders we can do a lot to support our teams with engagement and avoid the type of loss mentioned above, even in hybrid environments. Simple small steps can go a long way. Below are five steps to foster more connection, honor more boundaries, and support increased engagement:

1. Invest in Opportunities to Connect
We are social beings by nature. We are biologically hardwired to connect, and oxytocin (that fabulous feel-good hormone) is activated by connection. Oxytocin is known to enhance our ability to trust, and it opens us up to sharing and deeper connections. Reflect on how often your team is actually connecting versus just working. As a leadership coach, it is not uncommon to hear the rumblings of discontent—and these are always heightened when work is relegated to transactional interactions or monotonous work tasks without meaning.

We miss out on the depth of meaning and purpose to our work when we lose our connection. Focus and invest in connection opportunities that give value to your team members. It can be as simple as creating space and inviting more personal chat time at the beginning of a Zoom call or meeting, all the way to coordinating a large corporate event with speakers. Get creative, have some fun, and let connection fuel engagement.

2. Build Trust and Show Appreciation
Team members know when they are cared for. We can look at all Society for Human Resources Management literature, find multiple case studies cited from well-known publications, or simply look to our own experience. My personal favorite reference on this topic comes from the book The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, how the number one motivating factor is when employees feel their supervisors understand and take a personal interest in their personal work life. At the root: connection. Taking time to notice and take an interest in others reflects our care and appreciation—always a win for our teams.
3. Teach & Honor Boundaries
When we teach boundaries and honor boundaries of our team members, we are instantaneously showing them that we value and honor them. We see their needs and we honor them. We want our team members well taken care of. There is no substitute for this. I’m continuously astounded with how often we forget to pre-emptively offer permission and proactively offer support for our team members. People need to hear that they are appreciated and cared for, and they need to be shown that they can take time off. They need us as leaders to recognize and support their needs and honor them. The rewards are massive. We see retention, change in culture, and the impact this has on people’s personal lives as well as professional outcomes.
Psychological safety, enhanced communication skills, the ability to address conflict and manage tensions, improved work structures and outcomes—these are the benefits received when we regularly commit to creating brave spaces that allow us to communicate and bring our full selves to the table.
4. Promote Rest and Offer Relief When Needed
Leaders and organizations can support their teams simply by understanding and incorporating a team’s rest needs. There are many ways to rest and promote it within the workday. Breaks are one way, integrating quiet focused work hours into a team’s schedule, honoring breaks between back-to-back meetings, and referencing the latest in rest research (hint: it’s not just about sleep) is a good start. One of my favorite researchers on this subject is Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith and her overview of the seven types of rest. The gift of rest provides us much needed relief, especially when we’re dealing with high stress or suffering from exhaustion. Promoting and supporting rest activities can go a long way toward reenergizing a team.
5. Commit to Connect—Especially Hybrid Offices
I’m continuously amazed by the value teams receive simply by connecting and communicating regularly on hot topic issues. The key to success lies in the commitment. How committed is the team to addressing the issue? Psychological safety, enhanced communication skills, the ability to address conflict and manage tensions, improved work structures and outcomes—these are the benefits received when we regularly commit to creating brave spaces that allow us to communicate and bring our full selves to the table. Without the commitment or conscious effort for connection, we lose out on the benefits these times provide. How are you consciously connecting? How are you addressing and communicating the most pressing issues? Are you aware of the top three issues your team members are grappling with, and do they have solutions to them?

Engagement and connection require commitment and focus. Engagement does not happen on its own; rather, it arises when the conditions are right. Invest in and create those conditions. Our teams, our organizations, and our communities will surely benefit from the increased connection.

Woodrie Burich is an award-winning executive and leadership coach based in Alaska. She is a member of the Forbes Coaches Council, TEDx presenter, national speaker, and author. More about her may be found at