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HR Leaders - What Are the Next Steps for Employee Engagement?

by Todd Horton on May 6, 2020

I had a pipe burst one time in my house and of course I had to call the plumber to come and fix it on a weekend with no appointment. Once the job was done the plumber came over and walked me through the bill. As you can imagine the amount was expensive so I shrugged my shoulders and got ready to pay.  Then the plumber told me that was only his time and the scary part was yet to come.

We’re now living in a time where we don’t know if we are getting the first part of the bill or being told the scary part is still to come. All of us as HR leaders are shell-shocked at what is going on.  So let me tell you this, employee engagement is more important than it has ever been. 

The bold pronouncement I’d share is that now is the time to focus on your employee experience. If not, the moment will pass and the competitors will take hold. I say this based on what I’m hearing from our global clients and more than 20 years in HR. 

The glass half-full pronouncement is “let’s do this now” we as HR leaders have a fresh start to make a great impact on our organizations.

There are three concepts we need to understand in order to properly engage employees.  They are not mutually exclusive nor are they strong categories that require immediate attention.  They are the type of concepts that WE need to understand so when the time comes, you’ll be prepared. 

They are:

  • Employees of high emotional intelligence will do best 
  • Message delivery is essential
  • Leadership must set the engagement tone

Let me go into this in more detail.

Employees of high emotional intelligence will do best --Let me begin by offering a quick understanding that I am talking about the standard understanding of emotional intelligence as the ability to be aware of one's emotions and the emotions of others. The reason they will do best is based on the very definition of the term emotional intelligence. I’ve said this many times to those who I do business with that empathy is what will determine success versus failure. 

Prior to recent events the talk was keeping people engaged with perks, creative benefits, and socializing. And underneath it all was the potential of technology to do what they were doing. Now comes the time when we need to stress employee engagement for the purpose that human beings respond in times of crisis.  Let your employees know that they matter by making sure they know what you value in them and want to deepen your connection even in a time of great disruption. While even we embrace the tech future, we know the employees will always make or break an organization.

There is also a strong cultural issue that needs to be addressed.  The methods of providing empathy will vary between generations.  For example, baby boomers may prefer a more fact-to-face style of empathy while millennials may be more willing to provide a more technology focused one.  Or vice versa. Each generation will do what’s comfortable. The results of both styles have both their strengths and weaknesses which should be examined but remember that the both provide the potential for strong and emotionally intelligent means of employee engagement. 

Message delivery is essential--This is one type of employee engagement that exists no matter what the situation but it has the potential to make or break you.  If your world is good or bad, stable or not you need to make sure your message delivery is consistent so that your employees still see some type of stability and knowledge that the organization is moving ahead and not coming apart. 

I am not a fan of “New Normal”. Instead let’s focus on the “How” we are solving our problems and moving forward. Details matter especially now.

While your employees may be working from home, they must also possess ways to advance. Optional training opportunities could be one option.  Think for instance of a certification in a special skill area.  That is something that could provide them with a stronger skill set.  As a result you get a more advanced employee and they get the advantage of being stronger in their field. 

Or invite guest speakers to team meetings. Or dust off your mentoring program so employees can see all sides of the company. Trust is paramount moving forward. 

But let’s keep in mind that no matter what happiness and positive engagement are subjective.  You may do everything right but there are still some who won't be happy.  It’s very important not to treat all of these people as malcontents. Some of them may have been left with terrible personal traumas from everything that has happened and decide they need a change of scenery.  But it is vital that you learn from these people and use it to improve engagement

Leadership must own engagement-Up until 6 weeks ago employee engagement was the domain of human resources and rightly so. But now, the old world order is gone and so is the notion that organizational leadership can sit back and let others take care of this . 

Simply put, senior leader buy-in is crucial. We as HR leaders aren’t magicians and can’t/shouldn’t tell people who to lead. That said, we can encourage our leaders to re-think what employee engagement means and the power leaders have in communicating the impact employees are having. 

Unless leadership comes out and explicitly states the value of employees and is honest about 

reductions then it will be next to impossible for HR to manage the tactical aspects of employee engagement. Leadership needs to own engagement by being there and letting employees know that there will still be multiple options for them in the near future. 

What I’d encourage you to take away from this is:

  • Employees with the strongest emotional intelligence will do the best.  See what you can learn and how they can help.
  • Message delivery essential!  Employees have to know they are in position to grow both professionally and personally
  • Leadership must own engagement. While the tactical execution will remain with HR, leadership can not be distant or invisible,  They have to be upfront and visible for all to see. 

When I talk to the HR leaders and innovators I regularly talk to I am seeing the change from panic and confusion to determination. If the plan is right you can move your employees from panic to engagement which will result in a stronger organization.  Make sure you don’t forget your teams are looking for a sense of normalcy in abnormal times.

Topics: Employee Recognition, Employee Engagement, Machine Learning, employee retention, artificial intelligence

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