That elusive employee engagement

I just completed a very unscientific poll regarding whether people would be in another job or have another job title at this time next year. While the survey group was biased and the questions were simple, the end result of over 2,500 respondents is about 50% felt they would be in another job or have a new title.

Setting aside the veracity of the survey, many employees are eager to do something different. This is one sign the economy is percolating better, but it also sign that employee engagement continues to be largely elusive. Employees have become free agents since the turn of the century and employers have only one group to blame for it – the employers themselves. Employee engagement is lacking because employers killed it.  

As a retired manager, employee and consultant, I have witnessed countless layoffs, downsizings, rightsizings, reductions in force, offshoring, etc. I have also witnessed countless communications of how we have to keep the salary increase budget down because of a recession, downturn, not a full recovery, or because we need to simply watch expenses. With the recession, I have seen the elimination or curtailment of broad-based benefits and perquisites, on-job training, travel budgets, party budgets, office kitchen budgets, etc. that are like an ice-pick chipping away at a sculpture.

The end result is employees do not feel valued. Employers say employees are our most important asset, then the employees see examples of the above and they realize these are merely words. They witness long time employees unceremoniously walked out the door after a downsizing. They see such employees denied the ability to say goodbye. They do not learn of others in different offices in large companies who have been similarly treated until they reach out and the others are gone. What happened to Susan or Michael?

So, the fact employees have always been free agents, becomes even more true, and the employees execute on their newly discovered freedom. The result is employers are searching for ways to try to keep people. They did not have to worry about it as much until the last couple of years, but with an improved economy, others are now hiring. Yet, when a company shows by actions it does not care as much as they should for these assets, then the remaining assets are difficult to engage.

Here is a huge tip to employers. Treat your employees like you want to be treated. Improve communication up, down and across your organization seeking and using input on process improvements. Pay them fairly and include incentives that will make a difference to them and the organization. Teach your supervisors how to lead employees. Help the employees further their careers through training and offer internal movement within your company. Recognize these employees value their families and hobbies, so offer flexible schedules and paid time off.

There are other ideas, but one I will close with is how you treat employees when you must make cuts matters a great deal. The others who remain see this. If you treat people like they committed a crime, the people who remain start polishing their resume. The movie “Up in the Air” with George Clooney starring as a consultant for an outsourced firm that helps companies fire people is highly offensive to me that companies would do this. The company does not have the compassion to do this themselves.

Treat people like you want to be treated. Be fair and communicate as appropriate. Then, you can start looking for ways to attract, retain and reward employees.