HR Update: Employee Engagement

Last month’s human resources article focused on front-line managers and initiatives that can support and engage the management team. It is available here.

Voluntary employee turnover in the U.S. continues to increase with September coming in at a record 4.4 million people quitting their jobs. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released Nov. 12). Therefore, understanding how employees feel about their jobs, management and the company is critical to assessing their engagement. When people feel valued, confident, connected, and empowered, they become more emotionally committed to their jobs. Also, it’s important for company leadership to recognize that each employee’s perception is their reality. Leadership needs to take the time to know the people who work for them and create an engaging and meaningful employee experience.

Being Connected

Connections have changed since the pandemic started. Even the simple act of walking around the office, plant or facility and saying good morning to people isn’t the same. Every company needs to find specific ways to connect with employees based on their workplace. Focus initiatives into three key categories to boost feelings of being connected.

Performance Feedback and Support   

Many employers halted this process over the last year, and it’s time to bring it back. The best gift you can give an employee is honest and timely feedback. And employees are asking for it. Not only should these conversations address performance and accountability that produces quality work, but they should also provide a great opportunity to connect with employees – to check in and see how they are doing. And what are employees looking for in these meetings? An authentic effort to have a discussion, corrective feedback and clear expectations. They also want to know what their future looks like and what they can do to get there.  

This is not new information. Pre-pandemic studies showed the vast majority of employees wanted regular, continual feedback. If performance feedback was important then, it’s critical now. Remember, if the company is not engaging in conversations around their employees’ work, the value they are adding and their opportunities, another company will. So, find a system – even a very simple one can effectively provide regular feedback to your employees.

Intentional Interactions between Managers and Their Direct Reports

Schedule Frequent One-on-Ones   Be intentional in connecting with your teams. These conversations can help identify at-risk employees, find ways to motivate your team and confirm your feedback methods are working. Plan time to meet with each person with a couple of meaningful and thoughtful connection points. Be interested in how they are doing and listen to their needs. Be willing to ask the tough questions and explore the work experience each employee is having. Making the time to engage in regular conversations with employees and genuinely asking about any frustrations or concerns they have is time well spent.

Team Gatherings   Like so much, our casual interactions have changed. Since employees, managers and leadership aren’t running into each other at the water cooler like they used to, team members often don’t even know who is in or out of the office. The relationship building that used to just happen naturally now needs more deliberate planning. Especially as new return-to-the-office policies are being discussed, companies need to rethink how employees are connecting to each other – not just about work, but about building relationships – and providing opportunities to create employee interactions.

Gather Employee Input   

One significant reason people are leaving their jobs is that they feel unheard, they don’t feel valued, and they don’t see a purpose to their job. Many would rather start over than be in an environment that doesn’t seem to care about them or what they think.

“Engagement Interviews”   Companies need more than employee retention, they need employee engagement. It’s time to revamp the “stay interview” and focus on engagement. These can be 15-minute conversations with employees to allow them to express their feelings about their work, as well as describe their current work experience and discuss potential career paths. As you develop your questions, consider how they can help assess engagement to make the data as meaningful as possible.

Here are a few sample questions to start the conversation:

  • Tell me about a typical workday. Has anything changed in the past months that has impacted your ability to get your work done?
  • What opportunities do you see that would create more satisfaction in your job?
  • What are you proud of?
  • What are you looking for as a next step in your career?
  • What, if anything, would tempt you to leave?

This is a time to listen, and the questions should act as a way to facilitate the conversation. Making the investment in these conversations is a clear demonstration of how you value your people.

Engagement Assessments/Surveys   This is a formal way to gather information on how your employees are feeling about work. Many of these surveys can be compared to data that provides national or industry norms as a way to further understand results.

Before embarking on an engagement interview or survey, it’s critical to commit to analyzing the information, creating a plan of action, and providing feedback to your employees. Without follow-through, these initiatives may likely damage your engagement efforts by raising expectations then not delivering on the results.

Open-Door Policy   Old-fashioned but effective, creating an environment where employees feel safe and comfortable bringing up ideas, asking questions or expressing concerns continues to be an important part of an engaged culture.

In considering an engagement plan, the most important rule of thumb is to only take on what can be done well. Engagement efforts should be fluid and allowed to evolve. Everything doesn’t need to be implemented at the same time. Decide what matters most to your company and your employees and get started.

Please contact Sue Winkler Director of Client HR Services at swinkler@millercooper.com, if you are interested in continuing the conversation or learning more about Client HR Services. We are here to help! Next month’s issue will cover the second driving principle to engaging your employees – feeling valued.

Compliance Corner

Attention Illinois Employers:  If you are using non-compete and non-solicitation agreements, January 1 marks the day the new rules go into effect. The Illinois Freedom to Work Act was amended this fall, and there are new restrictions that apply. Be sure to have your agreements reviewed to be in compliance.

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