Want Employee Engagement? Just Ask.

Want Employee Engagement? Just Ask.

Employee engagement continues to be a challenge for organizations of all shapes and sizes. The road map to tackling this challenge is right in front of you if you are willing to involve your employees in the solution. But what should you be asking your people to get that answer? What they value, of course. Pretty simple, but nearly impossible to execute.

Ok it’s 2019, and we all believe we know what our employees need, and for that matter, what they want. But we don’t.

What we do know is that it’s not an “experience.”

Fast Company offered this topic up with a data dive in a small sidebar blurb in this month’s issue (May 2019). Bottom line, there is a disconnect between what employees value and what employers offer. The four areas detailed were: flexible scheduling, telecommuting, designated office space for wellness and reimbursement for wellbeing expenses. All four areas were desired by employees at a higher, and somewhat disproportionate, level than management believed. So, it becomes clear employees are yearning for these things and businesses big and small are taking a pass, even with the data to prove it.

Now, in a time of low unemployment and record employee disengagement (Gallup), one might stop to ask and react to what employees really value besides a healthy paycheck and affordable healthcare.

HR folks near and far spend countless hours on employee surveys, measuring employee engagement and satisfaction. But for some reason, organizations still aren’t getting this right. Is it the hubris of the executive management team? Maybe they believe they know what’s good for us. It could be that flexibility and healthy practices threaten their power and control. Or maybe they are more afraid of change than you and I. I’m not sure. And Paul Herbert, if you’re listening, can you help all of us understand this!

I’m going on three years out of a traditional office work environment. I split time between my dining room table and home office most days when I’m not working on-site with a client or teaching in a classroom. The home office I am referring to is a spare bedroom in my house. And to be honest, it can be challenging at times when you’re not physically present to have an attentive conversation.

Sorry, phone and video calls do not hold a candle to a good face-to-face. With that said, I don’t know if I could ever return to a 5-day a week office gig in the old-fashioned sense. I have my dog, bathroom, fridge, and CNN. My dry-cleaning bills are a fraction of what they were, and I can get to the doctor and dentist when I schedule them. I don’t have to go to the gym at a ridiculous hour either and I never miss my Thursday night tennis game due to a late meeting that I must attend in person. I also get more done with less real distractions, like unnecessary meetings and constant interruptions.

So, what does that have to do with the four areas that employees value and would like in their work-life?

Well, everything.

After close to 20 years of organizations offering flexibility, it still appears to be an issue. The same goes for wellness. Gone are the days of on-site gymnasiums. However, biometric screenings and wellness programs proliferate the landscape. Everyone I know that works is concerned about fitting in time to work-out and/or de-stress. We all get it–or do we?

When I am out of a traditional workspace, I have the flexibility to keep my life and wellness in check, and I am still as productive, if not more so than if I went to a traditional office environment. Yes, I yearn for a little more face-to-face interaction, and yes if you reverse engineer work flex for your workers, they can have some of what I have come to value most working out of my home.

So, my remedy is to press all of you in the HR space to push your C-Suite on acting on the information you gather. Of course, there are the jobs that you just can’t allow flex, or work from offsite to complete. For the other 90% of us reading this, it’s time to act:

  • Use data from your surveys and your exit interviews to quantify the request
  • Partner with your recruitment team to document offer rescinds and candidate commentary about their perspective and desire for flexibility
  • Use your biometric and health assessments along with aggregate data from EAP partnerships to prove the real need for wellness programming and reimbursements

With all the open workspaces today, it would be great to have a place to get away and de-stress too, and I am not talking about a ping pong table or gaming console either. From my perspective, the best investment your organization can make is in your employees’ well-being and satisfaction. To do this you don’t need a Chief Happiness Officer or expensive consultants, just a little common sense. Pay a stipend for employees to choose their “wellness” activity. It will certainly be cheaper than recruiting costs when they leave your organization.

The oddity of this conversation is that this is where data for the HR function is most accessible, useful and needed. The good news is most of us already have it. The challenge is putting it to good use for a noble cause.

So, I started this conversation with “Just Ask” and I will end it with a similar but more striking call to action. “Just Do It.”

Enough said.

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