By Terri Beth Miller, PhD
Let’s face it. It’s tough out there. The job market in most industries is brutal. Competition in the global economy is tougher than it has ever been. And most of us are still having flashbacks from the Great Recession of ’08. So, in an increasingly high-stress, low-certainty business environment, how do you maximize employees’ potential without adding to their anxiety?
A recent article posted on BenchSourcing.com affirms that driving employee engagement through effective people management is an essential component in building an effective and harmonious workplace. And yet this same article cites a 2012 Towers Watson study which found that less than half of business leaders emphasize people management as a priority in their own leadership practices (as cited in BenchSourcing, “In Search of Employee Engagement”).
The Towers Watson study speaks to the need for a fundamental shift in workforce development in the 21st century, a shift which acknowledges the new normal of the globalized workforce, in which a lifelong career with a single employer is no longer the rule, as it once was, but is, rather, a marked–virtually unheard of–exception. Today’s workplace is one characterized by volatility, instability, and impermanence. In order remain not merely competitive but relevant and viable, the modern worker is tasked with assuming ever greater responsibility, showcasing ever increasing competency, and cultivating an ever more diverse and sophisticated array of skills.
Little wonder, then, when our employees lose their motivation and morale. But there are strategies we, as leaders and change agents, can use to rally the troops, driving organizational performance and employee satisfaction at the same time.
Show Them They Matter
All too often, employees in the contemporary workplace feel lost in the corporate machine, like faceless cogs whose sole function is to drive the bottom line. This is where hands-on, personalized leadership proves key. Take the time to know your workers. Learn about their background; their families; their unique goals and values. When employees see that company leadership is invested in who they are as people, then not only is the leadership humanized, so, too, is the company they represent. This helps to transform an inhumane conglomerate into a harmonious community.
Show Them Quid Pro Quo
In this age of transience, it would seem that loyalty in the workplace is a thing of the past. However, as Cuban-American entrepreneur, author, motivational speaker, and business consultant, Glenn Llopis, has shown, this simply does not have to be the case. Businesses thrive when the relationship between the organization and its employees is reciprocal, when the organization is invested in the employee’s success and vice versa. Providing employee benefits which tie their professional development to corporate advancement (i.e. the certainty of a promotion to follow the worker’s earning of a degree or certification) builds an organizational culture in which employee effort is not only recognized but tangibly rewarded.
Show Them Their Responsibility
Another key to effective employee engagement is making workers accountable for the company’s success. Providing employees with stocks or shares in the company, for example, facilitates a direct connection between the business’s fate and their own. Employees excel when they feel this mutual sense of investment, the certainty that their best interests are also in the interest of the company, that their individual successes matter and are immediately and inextricably bound to the success of the organization. If, as the BenchSourcing article suggests, employee engagement relates to employees’ willingness to “go the extra mile,” then there is perhaps no greater incentive than the assurance that employees’ efforts will be recognized, valued, and reciprocated.
Building a happy, harmonious, and highly functioning workforce is not easy but, in today’s high-stakes, high-pressure environment, it is also not optional. Fortunately, with sound and strategic people management, a workplace characterized by loyalty, community, and a commitment to excellence does not have to be a thing of the past. In today’s volatile economy, success depends upon leadership practices centered upon one key principle: that our businesses thrive when our people do.