The end of the year can be a hectic swarm of paperwork, reporting, reviews, healthcare renewals, licensing, and other HR nightmares. Even worse, January is just around the corner. Do you dread the number of resignation letters that crawl across your desk as the new year begins? Combatting this yearly phenomenon requires you to make a commitment to employee engagement: making your workplace one where employees feel valued, challenged, and committed to their jobs.
What is “Employee Engagement”?
An "engaged employee" is one who is absorbed by and enthusiastic about the work that they do. In the book Getting Engaged: The New Workplace Loyalty, Tim Rutledge defines truly engaged employees as those who are attracted to, and inspired by, their work (“I want to do this”), committed (“I am dedicated to the success of what I am doing”), and fascinated (“I love what I am doing”).
If he has this this engagement, an employee also will actively work to further the organization's reputation and interests – even if that’s not technically in his job description. An engaged employee is more productive, and more likely to stay with the company. An unengaged employee, on the other hand – someone who goes to work, but just goes through the motions without caring deeply about his job – does little to further the advancement of the business and can actually cause harm through careless mistakes. An actively unengaged employee, one who is dissatisfied with her job and unhappy with the company, can not only cause harm by her own unengagement but can actively sabotage the efforts of others and cause other employees to disengage.
Holidays can be the Tipping Point
Spending time with family over the holidays – or just having time away from the office – can make employees reconsider their priorities, particularly if they work in an extremely high-stress environment or a job with long hours and frequent travel. A few good nights’ sleep and days off can bring into sharp focus a job that is overly demanding, without enough time for personal restoration.
The demands of any job must balance against its value in order for an employee to remain employed. In times of economic struggle, employees remain unhappily in jobs they don’t find fulfilling, or actively dislike. As the economy improves, however, and a new year begins, unengaged employees are more willing to cast their nets out into the market and shop around for a position that offers more potential for satisfaction.
How Can HR Encourage Employee Engagement?
End-of-year reviews are a great time to talk to employees one-on-one about their year, including what they’ve accomplished both personally and professionally. It’s also a good time to talk about frustrations they have: what hurdles are they encountering in their efforts to succeed at their job? Ask them what they want to accomplish – again, both personally and professionally – over the course of the next year, and what they need to help accomplish those things (and from whom the need it).
I ask my team to write down three personal and three professional goals for the new year, and I check in at least every three months to see how they’re doing. Sometimes I give them small prizes for accomplishing steps towards those goals, but mostly, I feel like the active engagement we have strengthens our relationship and improves our overall team morale.
Give your employees the tools they need to succeed. If your systems are antiquated and time-wasting, think about implementing new technology in the new year. Employees who feel frustrated that they have to constantly fight against the programs they use are more likely to disengage and less likely to take pride in their work.
When our administrative staff got cut, I became responsible for a lot more paperwork. I knew how to use one particular program, and requested its purchase – an investment of about $400 – which my company refused. I spent 20+ hours trying to learn how to do what I needed to do on the out-of-date program we already had, but everything still took me twice as long. When I got an offer from another firm who valued my input into what tools I needed to best do my job, I jumped ship without looking back.
Make connections. HR can’t always satisfy employees’ day-to-day needs, but make sure everyone understands that you are a resource for connecting employees to the people who can help them. Whether they’re struggling with their manager, having difficulty figuring out a schedule that works for them, wanting to work on more challenging projects, or suffering personal loss or trauma, HR should help them connect with resources they need.
My mom died in April, and HR was instrumental in helping me not only figure out what kind of leave our company offered but pointing me towards grief resources through our health care provider. They also helped set up flexible working plans and connect with IT to outfit me with remote working technology, so I didn’t fall behind or feel left out of our team’s progress. I dreaded the holiday season as the first without mom, and appreciated that HR checked in to see how I was doing. They even offered to make a donation in mom’s name to her favorite charity. My work team is my biggest support system.
Building employee relationships, supporting your team, and improving employee engagement requires direction, leadership, and effort from the entire management team, including HR. As you develop your end-of-year plans, spend some time thinking about how your company can work towards a more engaged workforce in 2016 and reduce turnover through the next holiday season and beyond.
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