Picture the scene: You’re the HR manager at company XYZ.  An employee calls to schedule time to speak with you about an issue.  The employee arrives and begins to explain that he feels his career is stalled.  He was hired as a xxx (could be any level employee) and he tells you he has skills that are not being utilized.  He is able to give specific examples of times his supervisor has not recognized his abilities.  He is now unchallenged, disengaged, and ready to leave your company.

Does this sound familiar?  Well, if you’ve worked in HR for any length of time, I’m certain you have had this conversation and likely, more than once.  The problem is that once an employee reaches the point of coming to HR, it is often too late.  Why do companies do this, and what can HR do to help managers shape the culture so that they do not lose valuable employees?  The key is getting employees connected.

To start with the “why” of it all, we need to go all the way to the beginning of the employee life cycle.  Sourcing/hiring.  Many companies have a reactionary style of hiring.  Managers wait until there is an unexpected resignation and a position opens that they need filled “yesterday or sooner”. The recruiter of HR manager must scramble to write a job description, get it posted, and begin looking at potential candidates. This knee-jerk reaction to hiring does not lend itself to finding employees who truly have the qualities and skills that will make them most successful in the position.

“Connection Fact” #1:  Companies need to have a well thought out recruiting strategy to be most effective in hiring people with skills that closely match those required in the position. When skills match position requirements, employees are more likely to be engaged in the work.

So, assuming your company has not used a well thought out recruiting strategy, the manager will now have to deal with the issue of keeping the employee challenged.  The problem now becomes how does the manager know that the employee is not being challenged?  One would think that there should be regular feedback for employees throughout the year.  It is during these conversations that the employee could tell his supervisor that he needs more challenging projects.  But let’s face reality.  There are thousands of employees who do not have the opportunity to take part in regular performance feedback conversations.  This leaves the employee feeling like no one at the company cares if they are under-utilizing their skills.  No one cares if they are engaged in their work.

As I discussed in a guest post over at Aquire last year, employee engagement has a direct effect of stronger company performance. So, it is critical that a company be able to evaluate which employees are becoming disengaged so they can correct the problem as quickly as possible.

“Connection Fact” #2: Companies that lose disengaged employees often see the negative impact of having lower profitability and higher recruiting expenses.

Whether you are the HR manager or the direct supervisor, there are numerous ways to increase employee engagement.

  • Encourage mentor relationships- Employees who feel mentored know that someone in the organization cares about their development and career path.
  • Communicate more, not less- Being transparent, even in economic downturns, builds trust with employees.  They will be more likely to hang in there for the long run.
  • Allow and encourage some fun in the work day- this one seems obvious to me.  HAVING SOME FUN AT WORK= employees who don’t dread being there.

The point is we should be seeking out ways to improve this in our own work environment.  And, if you find that the company is not encouraging increased engagement, it may be time to find something new.  Although employee engagement is holding steady during the economic downturn according to a recent Towers Perrin survey (June 2009), companies should still focus on proactively managing this aspect of the business.  It just makes sense.