In my experience with HR and specifically the Learning and Organizational Development function, I have been intrigued and excited by the challenge of understanding employee psychology.
During my initial period at HR, I thought that employees were simply stubborn and ungrateful but then I went deeper into the science and wonders of employee engagement.
So the question that came to my mind was what truly engages an employee? There can be no one benefit, no one salary number or no button that when pushed increases engagement.
Why do employees behave or think the way they do despite, apparently, so many “wonderful” things management tries to do for them?
I remember a senior manager once telling me that his employees were engaged just because they seemed to be working diligently from 9am to 5pm without breaks. I met another executive who was perplexed with low engagement scores because he thought he had been doing a wonderful job since he regularly took the employees out for fun trips and family get-togethers. Someone else told me that his employees were so engaged that they didn’t even share with him the personal emergencies at home and continued to show up for work! I remember a manager mentioning that she calls all her employees on their birthdays and sends them greetings, so her employees could be engaged. In the end, I remember one of my own team members telling me that her lowest time with me was when I truly did not understand an emergency at home and called her to follow up on work – which was my moment of self-realization.
Also consider that you will see or hear of employees who stick with their employer for years despite being talented and not being paid as high as the market while there are also those who choose to leave their employers even after a high raise and apparent success of the organization. Why?
What ways are there to engage an employee, if not all of the above and much more? (Which if you think about are all one-way roads!)
The one word that I have learned, after my years in HR and managing employee engagement that drives employee engagement is “trust”. Trust in your manager, in the organization, a sense of fairness in how matters will be handled, trust in decisions, trust in brand, trust in leadership and trust in all other things happening in the work environment. This will give the employee the confidence to deliver more than what is expected and to be truly proud of their employer.
Based on my experience, the key to developing trust is “communication” – communication from the top, middle and all levels. But this communication cannot be one-way; this communication should include hearing from the employees, understanding their inner apprehensions and fears, and giving respect to that communication by providing feedback to them on their concerns. Communication on personal and professional level on how they truly feel can go a long way in building that trust which develops engagement – and a work force which can overcome any challenge it is faced with, whose members will stand with you in difficult times because they can “trust” you to take best decisions concerning them at all times.