Category Archives: employee engagement

Training, the New Engagement/Retention Tool

Interesting and kind of surprising release here from Office Team citing a much larger number of HR professionals concerned about training and developing employees than those concerned about losing the top-performing ones.

Goes against much of what we’ve been hearing, that HR leaders’ top worries heading out of the recession and into the recovery are centered around keeping disgruntled employees engaged and retaining the top talent that’s already poised to leave.

But the release also includes a link to a recent Robert Half study confirming what the Office Team respondents seem to be “getting” — that post-recession employees are looking to employers more for their help in making them more marketable than as havens of job security. Makes sense that a shaky economy would have instilled in them this new sentiment.

In a survey we just conducted at HRE, which is at the heart of our upcoming Sept. 2 cover story on what’s keeping HR executives up at night, 45 percent of the 802 HR executives who responded said their most significant challenge today is the need to keep employees engaged and productive, followed by retaining key talent as the economy recovers (34 percent) and the importance of developing leaders (33 percent). In that survey, and in our story, development initiatives were cited as key tools for boosting engagement.

I think what these findings all underscore is that training and development — often relegated to the bottom rung of corporate expenditures during weak economies — now appear to be employers’ top engagement tools, topping any other morale-booster, or employee survey, or communication initiative.

Indeed, training and developing recession-weary workers — not just for your sake, but for theirs — appears to speak volumes.

A Glass Half Empty

Not much good news in the Business Barometer survey released today by The Corporate Executive Board. It reflects a drop in the optimism of HR executives — and other senior corporate leaders as well.

According to the survey, HR executives have dropped their expectations — from Q2 — of employee engagement (32 percent think employees will be less engaged) and anticipate higher turnover (54 percent compared to 39 percent in Q2). 

Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of  HR leaders expect a moderate increase of one-to-four percent in average labor costs this year, while four in 10 (42 percent) expect average health benefits to increase by one-to-nine percent, with 18 percent expecting a higher than 10 percent increase.

The survey polls more than 440 senior executives in six functional business roles in North America and Europe across 33 industries.

It found that the executives expect higher revenues for their companies this year (68 percent), but fewer are optimistic about their respective industries’ growth prospects (only 50 percent say they expect their industries to grow). A majority are anxious about rising cost pressures (68 percent).

Studying an Attitudinal-Economic Relationship

I came across this recent blog post I thought I’d share. Pretty interesting work being done by Jeffrey Saltzman, CEO at OrgVitality and an affiliated fellow at the Center for Leadership Studies at the School of Management at Binghamton University in Vestal, N.Y.

He establishes some pretty compelling arguments, with research to back it up, for there being a correlation between organizational performance and the performance of a country or region. (He calls his index for this regional-performance concept Employee Confidence.)

What’s more, he asserts both those performance readings can be used predictively. He suggests some interesting linkages between what he calls “citizenry attitudes” and unemployment. He says the attitude quotient can be used to predict future unemployment figures of a region — likewise, employee attitudes at a company can be used to predict future organizational performance.

Two other conclusions of his research, which you’ll simply have to link to to see how he formed:

  • People tend to be more positive when working productively and on the whole would rather be working harder than not having enough to do. When they do not have enough to do, either at their employer or when unemployed, there is a tendency to feel that their contribution is not valued either by their employer or society.
  • The notion that creating societies with strong social safety nets, such as unemployment insurance, diminishes the desire to work does not bear out.
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    Not sure what a senior HR leader can do with all this information, but I have a high degree of “blogger confidence” they’ll (you’ll) find it intriguing.

    Escape from the Job

    You have to know most employees are retention risks when the antics of Jet Blue’s (former?) air flight attendant Steven Slater receive such acclaim.

    While your employees probably won’t have Facebook fans numbering in the millions or see supporters creating a legal defense fund — hopefully, that won’t be necessary! — HR leaders would be foolish not to think that at least some of their workers are dreaming of leaving their jobs in similarly brazen fashion.

    According to a recent HREOnline™ story, Top Performers Begin Their Flight, employers “need to know what their workers are thinking and what they want from their careers — and then align these with the direction of the business.”

    So says Bram Lowsky of Right Management. That’s hardly rocket science, but airline companies, and probably most companies, seem to be unaware — or uncaring — that employees are fed up with work conditions.

    With survey after survey showing that workers are fed up and just waiting for a chance to move on, the time is shrinking for HR executives to take the steps necessary to re-engage desired workers.

    Raising comp is a common method, but  pay alone won’t be sufficient. In this HREOnline™ story, Tom McMullen of Hay Group advises HR leaders to focus on “their ‘total’ reward programs by offering clearer career paths, more meaningful work experiences, improved work climates, global mobility and targeted development in addition to increased monetary awards.”

    Or watch employees jump ship — albeit not as dramatically as Slater!

    Vacations are Good for You

    OK, a bit of soft news, but worth sharing: This recent release from the University of the Rockies suggests week-long vacations aren’t long enough for optimal benefits to occur — for both employee and employer.

    The study — conducted at the Colorado Springs, Colo., graduate school that specializes in master’s and doctorate degrees in psychology — maintains the benefits of vacation length peak at about 10 days, which supports previous research findings that 10 to 14 days of vacation may be the optimal length.

    What are the benefits to taking, or granting, a vacation of optimal length, you ask? According to this release, an increase in job satisfaction, a reduction of and protection against job stress and burnout, and an increase in professional well-being (which, of course, boosts employee engagement and morale and, in turn, boosts customer service, your employer brand, the list goes on).

    I’ll be interested to see if anyone cares to comment on this, but it’ll have to wait awhile. I leave Thursday for vacation. I’ll be gone 10 days.

    Maligning vs. Pitying Micromanagers

    I noticed a couple of mentions over the last few days about the evils of micromanagement and how this horrible and uninhibited trait can impact a workplace.

    One, from Beeson Consulting, warns that this obsession with every little thing that every single person under you is doing can, and will, prevent you from becoming the senior leader you’re trying to be. “Managers who are perceived by their troops as meddlesome micromanagers,” it reads, “are probably, in turn, viewed by senior executives as not having the bandwidth to step up to higher-level positions and handle greater responsibilities.”

    Another, by Suzanne Lucas, a.k.a. the Evil HR Lady, questions why more companies don’t just fire the poor (anti-)slobs. The reason, she suggests, is that they’re still stupidly promoting non-leadership behaviors such as “attention to detail” and failing to promote (literally) their “self-motivated, results-oriented” employees.

    The key for those suffering from this malady is to learn to delegate, obviously. The key for companies, writes Lucas, lies in implementing a results-oriented workplace environment (ROWE), where “managers let people do their work without hovering.” (We’re actually focusing on that very approach in Human Resource Executive®‘s August cover story.)

    Personally, I’m wondering if more companies shouldn’t be training and coaching their micromanagers away from their addictions, or maybe directing them to their employee-assistance programs … or maybe we should all consider them disabled and in a protected class??!!

    OK, I jest … well, mostly. As a parent, wife and manager, I’m here to tell you it’s damn hard to break out of the “If I want it done right, I have to do it myself” cycle. Or the killer mind-set of “If I don’t ask him about his progress, he won’t make any.” Thankfully, I’m getting better. But for some, it might take a 12-step program to overcome.

    Risks of the Recovery

    Better times are coming. More people are looking for work. Wages are thawing out. Defined-contribution employer matches are returning.

    But before your workforce rebuilding goes full bore, consider the landmines of the recovery, Matthew S. Effland, employment lawyer with Olgetree Deakins, told attendees at the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2010 conference.

    Despite the name of his session, “And the Tide Rolls Back In — Legal Issues in Rebuilding Your Workforce Post-Recession,” Effland’s warnings were not confined to the law. He spoke a lot about “survivor anger” spreading through corporate America right now — among people who’ve been working on frozen wages, doing the jobs of laid-off former co-workers as well as their own, and feeling minimized by their companies’ efforts to infuse new blood into the organization by recruiting outsiders and paying them higher salaries than their own.

    “Think about what you can do to make sure you’re taking care of the survivors,” said Effland. “Their disgruntlement can lead to litigation if you’re recruiting from outside to replace a position equal to theirs at a higher wage.”

    Also be careful not to “give into the pressure” to selectively re-hire laid-off employees, those problem workers you were able to let go of in the name of hard times. Those who are not re-hired when others are, or who are told to reapply for the same position, “will feel some sense of entitlement, and may sue, and may have a case” if they fall under a protected class, he said.

    “Avoid the shortcuts and the push for speed-hiring,” Effland said. “And make sure you fully document your hiring process. When you decide not to hire someone back, you better be able to justify it and explain it in a court of law.”

    Experimental HR

    Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies, a global IT services company headquartered in Noida, India, urged the SHRM audience to treat HR “as an experimental journey,” and to consider follow his example of treating the employee first, the customer second.

    Management doesn’t create value, he said. It can only “induce, encourage [and] enable the creation of value by the employees.”

    HR leaders, he said, should consider the leadership of Ghandi, MLK and Nelson Mandela. What they did, he said, was create dissatisfaction with today and develop a romance among their followers with tomorrow.

    Autocracy doesn’t work, he said. Democratize the workplace. Managers need to be answerable to employees instead of just the other way around. And the result of treating employees first is that customers will be served better.

    To create an environment conducive to change, however, requires trust. In his company, Nayar facilitated that trust by providing an environment of 100 percent total transparency. His 360-degree assessment is posted on the company intranet. If an employee asks him a question — and 99 percent of the questions are negative, he said — his answers are sent to all employees.  (The questioners must also reveal who they are.)

    His $2.3 billion company continues to grow rapidly — without new services, new products, new locations. It’s due to placing trust in his employees.

    “Transfer the problem to them. They create magic in the interface of customers and employees,” he said.

    The Meaning Behind the Work

    Dave and Wendy Ulrich made a nice coupling on stage Monday at their session, “The Why of Work: How Great Leaders Build Abundant Organizations that Deliver Value to Employees, Customers, Investors and Communities.”

    No surprise the joint session at SHRM worked, considering the Ulrichs have been married for many years and share three children and a granddaughter. But it was their joint message and the subject of their new book, The Why of Work, that carried an especially cohesive and cogent argument — that organizations would do well to start looking at themselves as places where people find meaning and purpose. More importantly, that organizations should be looking for ways to cultivate that new realization and approach.

    “We’re taking a different cut from human resources,” said Dave Ulrich, professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and a prolific and well-published HR expert. Wendy is a professional psychologist and founder of Sixteen Stones Center for Growth in Alpine, Utah. “We’re basically combining HR and psychology,” he said.

    They’re also taking their show on the road, if you will, to refute the notion that fostering the relationship between worker and work, and helping employees find meaning and purpose in their jobs is some warm and fuzzy, soft and cuddly notion. “I hear this criticism in some circles,” said Dave Ulrich. “I tell them they’re just wrong. Still, I can’t convince everyone.”

    The Ulrichs’ base their premise on the early works of Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, which he wrote while imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. At the time, Frankl discovered that, even in the harshest and cruelest of settings, some people remained vibrant and vital because of their stories and their strengths, and the strengths they could bring to one another. They found meaning in their identities.

    So, too, should “organizational strategies be stories,” said Ulrich. ” Successful leaders should be meaning makers. We want to begin to change the conversation” about what HR’s purpose should be as well.

    Calling on another famous thinker from the past, Wendy Ulrich told the story of medical researcher Jonas Salk, best known for his discovery of the polio vaccine. Salk, in one interview, recalled how his mother found lessons to be learned in all his setbacks. She created the learning environment that, in turn, created the famous scientist.

    “Do we inculcate a learning environment in our organizations?” she asked. “How do we learn from our setbacks, and help our employees learn from theirs? What are we doing in HR to promote that?”

    One clear path to helping people find meaning and happiness in an organization, they said, is to promote the importance of the team and relational strengths. “HR,” said Dave Ulrich, “is the force of the organization that shapes identity.

    “One of my greatest fears in HR today,” he said, “is that we’re so worried about talent, we’re forgetting about the organization — its systems and the capacity to work together.” That’s where the meaning and purpose lie, he added — “building on your own strengths to strengthen others.”

    The Ambiguity of Employee Engagement

    Most HR leaders would be quick to say that employee engagement is a good thing; far fewer would actually be able to definitively define it.

    That’s because there seem to be a zillion definitions out there. But many employers and consultancies continue to attempt to measure it, nonetheless.

    Right Management is no different, but Douglas Sietsema, its talent management practice leader, (who I caught up with at the SHRM convention) mentions an interesting correlation.

    One recent survey found that 65 percent of employees said their managers positively impacted their engagement, while 25 percent said managers had a negative impact and 10 percent said no impact.

    What’s interesting, he notes, is that the numbers are pretty similar to another survey — this one measuring leadership.

    In that survey, 60 percent said their companies provide some leadership, 22 percent said no leadership and 15 percent said consistent leadership.

    “That’s where we started to see leadership, engagement — that correlation kind of thing.”

    Leaders provide a sense of identity, of buy-in, he says.

    “Leadership is what leads to engagement,” Sietsema says.