People make your business run. But people – with their benefits, vacation time, sick days, salary, bonuses, etcetera – are also pretty expensive. Human capital (aka human beings
) accounts for an astonishing 70% of the costs for most businesses.
At the Garden State SHRM
conference, Deborah Muller, founder and CEO of HR Acuity
, addressed employee engagement as a risk management strategy. A provider of workplace investigation solutions, among other services, Muller’s position was effectively this: If employees are your biggest expense, why wouldn’t you take every step to ensure that the investment is effective and as protected as possible?
Some risks, she noted, are out of your control. These include legislation, the economy, and entitlements. But employee engagement is – to a significant degree – in the control of HR, managers, and senior leaders throughout an organization. High employee engagement is proven to correlate to better business outcomes, from profitability to reduced absenteeism. And HR is charged with making sure it happens.
That can be a tall order. Between HR and the individual employee are layers of management and day-to-day experience. It is hard to control the emotional outcomes – and employee engagement really is about emotional commitment – that occur from interactions you are not directly involved in.
When only 31.5% of the U.S. workforce is considered to be engaged (you can see the Gallup report here
), that means that 68.5% of employees are disengaged and less likely to give the effort and attention your business needs. Muller gave an elevator analogy. If an elevator fails, we investigate, to be sure that it doesn’t happen again and to fix the problem. But when engagement doesn’t work, too many leaders and HR managers discuss the annual survey numbers, then go back to business as usual.
So, what actions should an HR leader be taking to protect your biggest investment and to generate greater levels of engagement?
- Take baseline measurements – If you have not already, now’s the time to see how it’s going with your employees and to understand what their points of pain may be. Be willing to look at why the proverbial elevator is failing.
- Establish governance – Muller suggests determining “what do we have in place and who owns it?”
- Get leaders on board – You need senior leaders to be actively involved with the engagement strategy, but you also need those up-and-comers and unofficial team leaders to take up the cause. That’s the only way an engagement program will be perceived as authentic and can spread to all corners of the workplace.
- Provide a framework – Engagement requires clear direction and recognition for achievement. Make sure your managers and leaders have the right tools and understand your expectations of their involvement. An on-line platform can be a great hub of information and an easy way to get the message out and recognize your best people.
- Tie actions to values – Create the link between your brand values and your expectations of employees.
- Tie goals to rewards – If you aren’t creating a culture of mutual success, there’s little reason for teammates to give it their all. Everyone has aspirations. Connect to that.
- Communicate – Keep the program front of mind with frequent, branded communications. Communicate to your team as you would communicate to your clients. They are just as important.
- Celebrate. Fun is a big part of engagement. Create an environment where successes are celebrated, personal milestones are remembered, and a community can thrive.
- Measure again. Take the temperature regularly. How is the program doing? What percentage of the audience is involved? What adjustments need to be made? No matter how great your program is, to reduce risk you have to understand where it’s failing.
HR has a vital role to play as engagement investigators and risk mitigators. It's the only way to fight the talent deficit and retain the best employees.