Recession to Succession: The importance of investing in employee engagement (Part 3)

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Posted by Jesse O'Hayon

June 2, 2010

The third and final installment of Recession to Succession: The importance of investing in employee engagement ... or ... Why should employers bring something to the table?

So, your business is back on track (or getting back on track, at least). Orders are picking up, and your clients are being more responsive. You're pumped about the future. But are your employees, who are vital to your success, as pumped as you are?

A recent Gallup poll showed that more than two-thirds of American workers are "not engaged" or "disengaged" from their workplace, as a result of the brutal economic and workplace changes over the past two years. If employees were lucky enough to have survived the multiple rounds of layoffs, chances are high that they have still seen colleagues, friends, or family get laid off.

What does that mean for the employee still hard at work over in cubeland? Well, they likely have taken on responsibilities they were not initially tasked with. In order to survive, they might have even stepped up and offered to wear various hats to make them a crucial resource for the company, and thereby, "recession-proof."

As an employer, you might have thought that your employee was happy to take on this extra work, but as time progresses, this added workload can weigh heavily on an employee's shoulders. Distracted by putting out organizational fires, it has probably been some time since employee roles have been evaluated.

As a result, many are still bearing the burdens of tasks they were helping out with temporarily. Yes, employees were happy to have a job through turbulent times, but in addition to the salary reductions many went through, dissatisfaction with their current employment situation is not entirely unreasonable.

I can't help thinking that a parallel can be drawn to the airline industry when gas prices went through the roof a few summers ago. Airlines were feeling the effects of the heightened gas prices, which made the operation of airlines much more difficult and costly. The airline industry asked its passengers to take it on the chin in order to offset the difference.

At the time, this change might have been necessary in order to avoid ticket prices from rising too high. Since then, gas prices have gone down, but baggage fees still remain. Even today, passengers wince when they check in and are forced to swipe their credit card again to cover their bags. You can practically hear their thoughts: "Oil is under $70, why am I still paying for my bag?"

We might not be in the clear yet, but things are admittedly better, and business will continue to improve. So, maybe it's time for the employers and organizational leaders to bring a bottle of wine to the party. But how? A few thoughts:

  • Look at what you do have. So, two-thirds of your workforce isn't feeling the love. That still means that one-third is. Look at this one-third of the workforce and dial in to them. What motivates them? What has lead to their satisfaction? Look for these trends and leverage them throughout the organization.

  • Employee engagement surveys. Internal surveys have been proven to be informative and useful. Have a smaller business? Use SurveyMonkey, but make it anonymous. No matter the method, look at the main reasons for the dissatisfaction, and address them. Make sure there is a section for general comments, and read them (even if you might not want to).

  • Make the little things count. If your firm is not in a position to reward employees financially, that's OK. But look for those who have stood out and gone the extra mile to contribute to or protect your brand, and give them accolades. Never underestimate the power of positive speech.

  • Be realistic. No one expects their salary levels to be raised tomorrow. But they do want to be told what they can look forward to in the coming weeks, months, and year. Messaging is paramount to this, and if done correctly, can lead to increased employee satisfaction. Once you put your message out there, make sure you listen to the feedback. Engage and respond to questions, comments, or concerns.

And for the recruiters out there: In order to truly take a consultative approach and ensure your candidates will be happier in their new positions, genuinely listen to their concerns. Are they feeling better about their position, role, and future with the company?

Are they better or worse off professionally from where they were before the economic downturn? They might have survived the layoffs, but are now asking themselves if all the juice is worth the squeeze.

Things are looking brighter, which is why now is the time to take advantage of the opportunities available and set your company and employees up to stick through the tough times. Bringing a bottle of wine to the party will remind your employees why they stuck with you, and will likely keep them happy and satisfied when opportunities are available once again.

This post was written by Jesse Ohayon, former Vice President of Recruiting at
Yoh.  Learn more about Jesse.

Topics: HR Strategies

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