Employee Engagement

5 tips for effective one-on-one meetings that drive engagement

95% of managers have one-on-ones with their employees. Just because they’re having them though, doesn’t mean they’re effective one-on-one meetings.

In the best cases, these meetings can be vital to an employee’s career trajectory. They keep team members focused and ensure they know what you expect from them in the short- and long-term.

These clear expectations, as well as support in their career, can improve employee engagement and productivity. It can even improve team members’ well-being.

So, how can you conduct more effective one-on-one meetings that drive employee engagement?

Have an agenda

Having an agenda for any meeting means that all parties know what type of meeting it’s going to be.

A one-on-one without an agenda can be a source of panic for employees, especially if they’ve previously worked at companies where one-on-ones consisted of their boss berating them for an hour.

Come up with a clear list of what you want to discuss. 

Ask employees what they want to talk about, too. 

That way, you both know what to expect and can do any preparation needed. Employees also get to feel like their voice is heard.

Create a welcoming atmosphere

Employees need to feel like they can talk to you. Otherwise, they’re going to shut down and you not only won’t get a lot from them in the meeting, but you won’t get the most from them work-wise, either.

Effective one-on-one meetings are the perfect place to discuss roadblocks or other workplace challenges. Just over 70% of managers feel this is a good way to use them.

But if an employee doesn’t feel you’re approachable, they’re less likely to talk to you if they’re stuck.

Instead of saying, “don’t come to me with a problem, come to me with a solution,” make it clear to employees that if they can’t think of a solution, you’re there to support them. But you’re also there to brainstorm and help them address challenges as well.

You can then encourage them to trust their instincts solving future problems.

Otherwise, they may waste more time feeling stuck because they can’t find a solution when you have one already.

Discuss the good and bad

The topics discussed the most in effective one-on-one meetings are:

  • Growth and development
  • Performance
  • Employee motivation
  • Connection to people and/or work
  • Autonomy and accountability
  • Alignment to company mission. 

These are some pretty meaty topics and can go in either direction. Getting the balance right requires giving effective feedback to help employees excel.

Many people are either better at giving criticism or praise. But effective one-on-one meetings have a balance of both. Employees need to know what’s pointing them in the right direction and what’s taking them off course.

If they’ve made a mistake or could have done something more efficiently, instead of dwelling on that, explain why it was less effective and teach them the better way to do things next time.

If you spend the meeting berating them or repeatedly telling them they were wrong, they’re far more likely to shut down and struggle to put what you say into practice.

So be sure to praise what they do right, too. Do they create a welcoming atmosphere for new team members? Are they quick to learn?

Soft skills are just as important as hard skills in the workplace.


One of my strongest memories of a workplace one-on-one involved being talked at for an hour. I didn’t get a word in. 

I was told what I’d done right and wrong, and what I needed to achieve in the next year. That was it. 

I didn’t get a say; my thoughts, feelings, and opinions weren’t considered or even asked for. 

That shouldn’t be the purpose of effective one-on-one meetings, especially not in the modern workplace.

Instead, listen to your employee. What matters to them? What do they want to work toward, in the short- and long-term? What’s getting in their way?

How can you help them achieve their goals?

Give guidance

Sometimes, an employee doesn’t know what they want, either in terms of short-term or long-term career growth. Not everyone has a clear trajectory, and they shouldn’t be expected to map one out without support.

Expecting people to know where they want to go when they don’t know what their options are is like asking someone to cook a dish they’ve never heard of without a recipe.

Give them options for where they could go in their career. Consider positions that suit their personality, strengths, and motivations.

If someone enjoys the creative parts of being a marketer, there’s no point in suggesting they become a marketing analyst, for example.

Conversely, if they like the people part of marketing, they might make a great marketing manager or even salesperson.

Or, if you’re not sure what their future could look like, do some research together, or ask people within the business what they think.

Just because someone doesn’t have a clear career vision, that doesn’t mean they can’t do great things with a little help. Effective one-on-one meetings are a great place to start digging into these issues.

Come up with next steps

All effective meetings have a plan at the end. One-on-ones should be no exception.

Whether it’s a small task to be done for next week, like completing a brief, or a long-term plan to help them achieve their career goals, providing actionable next steps means employees know what you want from them, and enables you both to track their progress.


Effective one-on-one meetings can play a huge role in an employee’s career development. Whether they want to become a manager, a subject matter expert, or something else, you have the opportunity to guide them through pivotal points in their career.

To make these conversations a success, employees need to feel comfortable opening up to you.

They also need to believe you’ll accept what they tell you without judgment.

The more you listen to them, the more they’ll open up, and the better they’ll perform in the workplace.

If you’d like to learn more about what employees want outside of effective one-on-one meetings, Workrowd can help. Establishing an ongoing culture of feedback with our automated surveys and analytics means you’ll always have a pulse on employees’ needs.

Plus, our employee program, group, and event management tools make it easy to design and launch initiatives in response to the feedback you get. Want to learn more? Drop by our site, or send us a note at

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