We had our annual team Christmas party last night. As usual it was great to catch up with colleagues informally and to say thank you for everyone’s hard work and commitment over the year. This was in the midst of a restaurant full of people on very similar days out. Christmas seems to be a time when we make this effort and do hopefully show each other that their hard work and commitment is valued and recognised.
The evidence about the benefits of employee engagement is clear. Effective engagement benefits both people and the businesses they work for and that has benefits for UK PLC as well. Engagement is about making sure everyone has the opportunity to show their full potential at work and showing that we value their contributions is a key part of this.
The problem is when we only do this once a year. Too often we think a plastic cup of warm Cava and a mince pie are enough to show people that their hard work is valued (or so it seems). As a human resource management researcher I know that employee engagement is about sustained commitments, it cannot be just a once a year activity. It got me thinking though. If we are serious about engagement, what are the principles needed to support this all year round?
Five key practical ideas occur.
1. Recognise the diversity of people’s contributions
Too often we focus on a particular aspect of a person’s expected contribution. But jobs are rarely that simple. If we ignore aspects of work and the more hidden parts of someone’s contribution, then we run the risk of devaluing all of their contribution, not just the bits that we ignore.
2. Focus on the positives
As managers too often our interactions focus on issues and problems in connection with the work that people do. These have to be dealt with, but we should spend at least as much time, and hopefully more, recognising the value that people create and helping them develop the positive aspects of their contributions further.
3. Give employees a voice
Actively seek out employees’ views and listen to what is said. People want to be heard and know that their opinions count.
4. Act on feedback
Nothing frustrates us more than when we raise an issue or make a suggestion and no response is evident. The implication taken is that opinions don’t really matter. We need to make sure that our own behaviour shows integrity and key to this is being response. Make changes and act on information received, and if you can’t then as a minimum you have to explain why changes cannot be made.
5. Say thank you properly and publicly
Hard work deserves to be recognised. And it’s much better if that recognition is public and meaningful. People seldom shout about their own successes, so we have to do it for them. Plus, if we say thank you right others see what gets valued and that their similar efforts will get recognised as well.
Someone recently told me a story about thank yous. Martin Penny who built up the famous GHD hair straightener business said he is always saying thank you in the business – and yet it is the thing he gets criticised most about in feedback from his team. His point was you need to thank people quite formally – not just in passing or they don’t necessarily register it!
I’m sure my list isn’t exhaustive, and you may want to suggest others of your own, but it seems like a good place to start. And, as it happens, these are all principles at the core of our new MSc in Employee Relations which the School has developed with the Employee Relations Institute. This new programme is built from the principle that effective workplace employee relations start with real mutual engagement between all those invested in the success of the organisation. Those whose roles are focused in this area (line managers and employee representatives in particular) will benefit from working together to think about how this relationship can be better.
Sustained engagement comes from real commitment to working effectively together and actually that’s not difficult, if we’re willing to take the time to understand our colleagues and genuinely support them in the work that we do. In fact, that can be my new year resolution: spend more of time working collaboratively. I am sure I will benefit and I hope others will too.
Do you have a New Year tip to improve relationships with your employees?