Owning Engagement in Your Workplace

We’re going on well over fifteen years of thinking about employee engagement in organizations.  And after years of surveying employees and rolling organizational results into a macro look at our country, the results today have not changed much from when we first started the analysis.  What we know is companies that lose disengaged employees often see the negative impact of having lower profitability and higher recruiting expenses.

From a company perspective, there are always things that can be done to reach out to employees and make them feel valued.  What has changed in the last fifteen years is using technology to bolster engagement by creating solutions to aid in stronger organizational connections.  These can include solutions to:

  • Encourage mentor relationships- Employees who feel mentored know that someone in the organization cares about their development and career path.  This mentor relationship also creates an outlet for continuous communication, and feedback, so that the employee has a strong connection point.
  • 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.  Additionally, letting an employee know how valuable they are to the company is key.
  • Allow and encourage some fun in the work day- Fun at work = employees who don’t dread being there.  You don’t have to be playing ping pong or foosball all day at work, but definitely encourage a culture of being able to step away from the desk to chat and congregate.  It also means providing technology to make collaboration and sharing easier.  And beyond the technology, having senior leaders who will use and champion the technology so that employees feel compelled to use it too.

But it’s not just about the company driving employee engagement.  In many organizations, employee engagement is looked at as the relationship between the employee and the company.  In actuality, it goes far beyond this and is the relationships that an individual employee builds with colleagues and clients that truly indicate how likely the employee is to stay with the organization.  Engagement is also a set of behaviors an employee must embrace in order to make the connections that will be lasting.  So, what can you do as an employee to build that relationship?

Ways to foster your own engagement

  • Volunteer to do more
  • Be more active (in the group, the topic, etc.)
  • Look for ways to improve, then implement them
  • Take ownership for what goes well and where you need to improve
  • Get “fired up” and use your passion
  • Be loyal
  • Build trusting relationships

The take away for me is it’s about focusing on the relationship, not the individual inputs  and levers.

What do you think?  What would you add to the list?

HR Happy Hour #199: Employer Branding from the Inside Out

Recorded Tuesday January 20, 2015

Hosts: Trish McFarlaneSteve Boese

Guest: Jason Seiden, CEO Brand Amper

Jason co-founded Brand Amper, an employer branding platform that builds brand equity quickly and sustainably by putting employees—the most trusted source of information about a company—at the center of brand creation. For 20 years, Jason has been making professional communication more genuine and productive.  You can find him on Twitter, he’s @seiden.

Listen to the show HERE

In the latest HR Happy Hour Show, we welcomed back our friend Jason Seiden, CEO of Brand Amper, one of 2014’s ‘Awesome New Startup’ technologies from the HR Technology Conference to get an update on what has been happening with Brand Amper, and to talk about engaging employees in the brand and mission of the organization. Often ‘brand’ initiatives are drawn up in corporate boardrooms or by expensive external consultants without much thought or acknowledgement of what the actual brand messengers and deliverers, the employees, think or feel or believe. Jason talks about the importance and power of leveraging actual employees and what they actually think and believe and aspire to in creating, communicating, and executing the brand promises and delighting customers.

Additionally, we lamented the sorry state of Email in the workplace, (it is NEVER going to die), and Jason shared why he wears the same black H&M shirt everywhere he goes. Steve is 100% with Jason on this strategy, while I has some concerns about the mental well-being of both of the gents.

You can listen to the show on the show page here, and using the widget player below, (email and RSS subscribers will need to click through)

Check Out Business Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Steve Boese Trish McFarlaneon BlogTalkRadio

 

As always, you can listen to the current and all the past shows from the archive on the show page here, on our HR Happy Hour website, and by subscribing to the show in podcast form on iTunes, or for Android devices using Stitcher Radio (or your favorite podcast app). Just search the iTunes store or your podcast app for ‘HR Happy Hour’ to add the show to your subscriptions.

This was a really fun show and I hope you enjoy listening!

Benefits of Connecting Disengaged Employees

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.

Social, Branding and Recruiting: HR Happy Hour

hr happy hourIn my last post, I mention things you can do while driving to spend your time productively learning.  One of the recommendations I made was to listen to the HR Happy Hour podcast.  If you’ve never listened, HR Happy Hour is a radio show that Steve Boese and I co-host every other week.  We talk about human resources, technology, recruiting, business and culture.

Last Thursday night, Steve and I interviewed friend of the show Jessica Lee; Director of Digital Talent Strategy for Marriott International. Jessica shared how Marriott is using digital strategy to move boldly in the global recruiting space.  Additionally, she shared her insights and experience on building both a corporate and personal brand.  

We covered topics such as:

  • Big trends and themes in the intersection of social, brand, legal and HR
  • Mobile strategy
  • Video technology


Be sure to check out the show and share with your colleagues.  In addition to listening, you can read the show backchannel on Twitter – hashtag #HRHappyHour.

Catch us March 21st  at 8:00 pm EST when we’ll be talking about the upcoming Health and Benefits Conference with guests Jen Benz, Fran Melmed and Mark Stelzner.

5 Strategies To Coach “Institutionalized” Employees

~ He’s just institutionalized…The man’s been in here fifty years, Heywood, fifty years. This is all he knows. In here, he’s an important man, he’s an educated man. Outside he’s nothin’ – just a used-up con with arthritis in both hands. Probably couldn’t get a library card if he tried…these walls are funny. First you hate ’em, then you get used to ’em. Enough time passes, it gets so you depend on ’em. That’s ‘institutionalized’…They send you here for life and that’s exactly what they take, the part that counts anyway.~ Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding

Gold Watch for RetirementI was watching the Shawshank Redemption this morning.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth your time.  It’s one of those stories that has so many poignant lessons about relationships, trust, fear, motivation, and well, life in general.  Even though I’ve seen the movie numerous times, one part really hit me this morning.  There is an older gentleman, Brooks, who has spent his whole life in the prison.  When it comes time for him to be paroled, he breaks down and wants to commit a crime in prison so that they’ll be forced to keep him.  His friends prevent him from committing the crime and Brooks is paroled.  Brooks tries to fit in out in the real world, but having been in prison so long, he just cannot adjust.  He eventually commits suicide.

Institutionalized in the Workplace

The movie made me think about the workplace and employees who have worked their whole career at one organization.  As I was growing up, my dad taught me that it was an honorable thing to choose a career and then stay with that employer for the entire time.  Think about it, many people born in the 1930’s- 1950’s have been able to accomplish this.

There are certainly employees who fit this description and who stay engaged and are the best representatives of  the organizational culture.  But, most workplaces have those employees who are just there and going through the motions.  They do this year after year.  They continue to come to work and just do the minimum to get by.  They might as well be carving a hash mark into the desk to represent each passing day.

So, what can a manager do with these employees to turn being “institutionalized” into a positive?

Coaching Strategies for Managers

  • Be Direct- Don’t ignore the situation.  Even if your organization has a “contribute and stay” mentality, a lesser engaged long-term employee can cause real morale issues in your department.  Often, these employees have been there many more years than you have as the manager.  The only approach is to be direct.  Have that tough discussion and find out why they stay, what would make them more challenged at work, what makes them feel valued, etc.  Then, act on what you learn.
  • Find their strengths–  When you get to know your staff on a more personal level, you may learn that they use skills outside of work that will benefit the organization.  For example, if you have someone who is a deacon at church or who is very involved in planning and organizing at functions for their children’s school, capitalize on those skills and use them in that capacity on the job.  When you recognize someone’s skills and praise them for is, they will be more engaged at work when they get to use the skills.
  • Loan them out– With the economy the state it’s in, we’re all working to do more with less.  This includes staff.  But, if you can find opportunities to give up a long-term staff even for a couple days a month, you can improve their engagement.  Loan them to another department to help expose them to another type of work.  This will also spread the good will and demonstrate your willingness as a leader to look out for the organization as a whole.   Each time the employee returns, have them tell about the experience at the next staff meeting.  Other people on your staff will see the enthusiasm and may learn something as well.
  • Job Shadow–  I recommend using this strategically.  For example, if you have an employee who could use a specific type of coaching, pair them up with someone from another department who does really well in that area.  This will be a non-threatening way to coach the employee.  I also use this technique when I need to assess how a particular employee is doing in their role.
  • Capture their knowledge–  One of the things that managers struggle with is losing the long-term employee’s knowledge when they retire or resign.  A way to address this is to find ways to capture that knowledge before they leave.  Start a private collaborative site online and teach your staff how to use it. Ask them to write about everything from processes to ideas on how to handle issues.  Not everyone is a writer, so provide training on how to write and edit.  Make sure they feel comfortable sharing their knowledge, then recognize and praise them when they do.

By focusing on ways to improve engagement of long-term employees, you may actually turn them into your greatest asset. What techniques have you used as a manager in order to coach your staff?  Share them in the comments.

The Chemistry of Employee Retention and Engagement

chemistryIn the January 2013 issue of Go Magazine, I read an article by Helen Fisher that caught my attention.  Ms. Fisher, author of The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love stated, “Your partner might not look so great at the breakfast table for the tenth year in a row, but if you see her on a seat in Mexico City, she’ll look amazing.”  The point is, that if you see a person in a different, more exotic locale, it can increase dopamine levels in the brain which cause you to feel happier and more satisfied with that person.

While the workplace is not about romance, it absolutely needs chemistry to keep employees engaged and on the job.  For companies or departments with low turnover over many years, you may begin to experience loss of creativity or engagement with the job, resulting in loss in revenue.  I wonder if we’ve run into a similar situation as the married couple that no longer finds each other as attractive.

Now, think back to those first few weeks or months on a new job, or of someone new joining your team.  Remember the feelings of:

  • excitement of meeting and working with new people
  • having your senses piqued by a new office or cubicle and new work “neighbors”
  • A jolt of energy from using your skills in a new and exciting way or having a team member who is ready to take on any challenge

See, much like romance, some of the same sensory perceptions are surely tapped with a new job.  The dopamine levels likely skyrocket during this time.  So, what happens over time?  Well, what is the old saying about familiarity breeding contempt?  If my line of thinking is correct, then the solution to employee engagement and  retention is variety and finding ways to keep creating opportunities to raise dopamine levels.

Variety and wellness?

Yes.  Chew on that.  Roll it around in your head a bit.  Are you, or your leaders, doing all you can to add those components?  Whether employee or leader driven, it seems that a major overhaul in location, job duties, or colleagues could be the variety and dopamine generator needed to drive higher creativity, optimism and yes, engagement.  Have team members switch desks.  Change up the job duties once a year.

But what if you can’t make a major change?  This brings me to your challenge.  What small efforts can a leader make to drive small dopamine increases?

  • Provide foods rich in dopamine like fruit.  A weekly fruit basket would be an inexpensive approach and fruit like bananas, blueberries and strawberries increase dopamine levels naturally.
  • Protein has an amino acid needed to stimulate dopamine production.  This means that having healthy, high-protein snacks available for employees can help the positive effects.
  • Encourage time to have physical activity.  Provide a wii, encourage employees to hit the gym before work or during lunch, or create a walking or workout challenge.

What if you can’t make all those changes in the workplace?  Well, start with you.  Start making the changes in your own lifestyle and gradually spread the good habits at work.

 

Halloween: To Dress Up Or Not To Dress Up

To dress up or not to dress up, that is the question…

Today is Halloween and thousands of employees are dressing up in costume across this great country.  They don their scariest, most political or cutest costumes in hopes of winning the office costume contest.  But just how many people actually participate in this ritual?

Well, from the looks of my FaceBook sream, I’d say that a ton of my friends work at companies that celebrate the holiday. After all, it’s fairly non-controversial, save for the occasional employee that shows up in a not-so-work-appropriate getup.  So, why do companies participate and why do some avoid it?  I found a fun survey on GlassDoor that gives us the scoop.  Consider the facts:

  • The survey shows that two out of five companies (40%) celebrate Halloween in the office.  The downside is that 48% of HR professionals, office managers or administrative assistants are likely to be on point for planning any celebrations.
  • More than half (52%) of employees say they are likely or very likely to participate in employer-hosted Halloween fun.
  • Nearly half (46%) of employees aren’t sure if their employer has a policy around work-appropriate Halloween attire.  So here we are, back to the HR policy creation.
  • Nearly one in three (29%) hope their boss will dress up for Halloween at work.

So, what say you?  Do you work in an office or company that celebrates the ghouls?  Does it lead to some HR horror stories?  Be sure to share it all in the comments and for more fun Halloween survey results, check out the GlassDoor blog.

Using Social Media: Strengthen Your Employer Brand with FourSquare

A few weeks ago I started a series called 10 Easy Ways to Build Social Media Into Your HR Practice.  Since then I’ve shared some specifics on the ideas I suggested.  These ideas are written with beginners in mind because there are so many professionals who are hesitant to jump into using social platforms for business.  I want to show that it can be easy when you start with small steps.  Today, we’re going to cover a few ways you can use FourSquare or location based apps at your organization

First, what is FourSquare?  FourSquare is a free tool for your smartphone that allows you to connect more easily with businesses in your area (or wherever you are) as well as your friends.     Launched publicly in spring 2009, it has grown to a community of over 20 million users globally.  There are more than 750,000 merchants already using FourSquare to connect as well.

With this app, you can easily search for businesses nearby, find their locations and any “specials” that they are currently offering.  Users who have been to that business before may post tips about the business so you will know if a restaurant has good food or prices, if service is poor, etc.  You can also use it as a tool to show you what your friends are up to and if they are nearby.  For example, I recently arrived at an airport in another city and checked in on FourSquare.  It showed me other people who were checked in, one of whom I was friends with that I didn’t realize was having a layover in the same airport at the same time.  It was nice to connect with that person.

Another use is to take advantage of specials that businesses offer.  On a recent trip to Napa, I was able to gain big discounts at several wineries, restaurants and spas all by checking in on FourSquare.  I’ve also use it at the mall, right at the checkout, to save as much as 30% off my bill at certain stores.

STRENGTHEN YOUR EMPLOYER BRAND WITH FOURSQUARE

From the standpoint of using it for your organization, there are ways you can encourage and even reward your employees for helping strengthen your employer brand.

  • Make sure that your organization, or each of the locations, is listed on FourSquare.
  • Encourage employees to “check in” each day when they arrive at work.  This will help them connect with other employees and even with customers, if you have the type of business where customers come onsite.
  • Encourage employees to leave “Tips” on why it’s great to work there.
  • Have your recruiters or HR professionals leave “Tips” on jobs that are available or other positive information about your company.

Once you have your employees checking in and leaving tips, you can easily set up rewards to acknowledge the ones who use it the most, who share the most productive and relevant data, etc.  In my previous job in healthcare HR, I would often check in and see customers (patient families) who had checked in multiple days.  It was a good way for me to reach out to them to introduce myself and tell them about resources available to them that could make their stay a little easier.  I could also refer them to our guest services group to help them with any needs they had while on the premises.  Lastly, you can reward your frequent customers by offering special discounts for those that check in most often.  It’s a win for your company and a win for the customer.

Are you using FourSquare?  Do you use it to promote your business?  Share your tips and ideas in the comments please.