3 Ways HR Teams Can Impact Employee Engagement (But Probably Aren't)

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In an age where job-hopping is increasingly becoming the norm, driving employee engagement has become a mandate for HR leaders. Most conversations about employee engagement quickly focus in on surveys, management training and employee perks. These are all important topics, but — whether talking about millennials or long-time employees who could switch jobs any day as well — there are also some commonly overlooked opportunities that HR teams can seize to make more immediate progress. Here are three of the biggest opportunities you're likely overlooking that can have a profound impact.

1. Write a Playbook for Executives

Engagement starts at the top; the CEO and executive team set the tone for the organization and are role models for people within it. Too often, HR assumes that executives know how to lead in a way that supports an engaging workplace. They often don't. So, while it can feel intimidating to tell executives what to do, this is a critical step. Create a "playbook" that outlines the eight or 10 behaviors or actions that are expected of them (with some guidance on how to do them). Creating this clarity of expectation can make success far more likely. Executives are often eager for guidance, but won't ask for it — so give it to them. Here are two examples of what your playbook might include:

  • At least quarterly, initiate a conversation with your direct reports (individually and as a team) to check in with them about their work experience. Ask questions to understand what's working and what's not. Identify at least one action to take to make improvement
  • Schedule weekly opportunities to be in conversation with frontline employees within the organization. Your role is to ask good questions and do a lot of listening. Capture notes about what you hear. Share your observations with the executive team monthly.

2. Review the Policy Manual

While people often point the finger at leaders and managers as the reason employee engagement suffers, organizations need to own HR's impact as well. It's no secret that employees can have a love-hate relationship with HR and specifically with their policies. If the goal is to create a workplace where employees behave as productive, mature adults, then HR needs to treat them accordingly. Nearly every measure of employee engagement highlights the importance of trust, as Edelman notes.

When you read over your policy manual or handbook, does it communicate, "We trust you to make good decisions?" Or does it communicate, "We assume you are untrustworthy, so we've created this manual to protect the organization?" Among the first things a new hire experiences is your handbook and all of its policies. Be cognizant of the message you're sending.

3. Triple Your Communication Efforts

There is often one challenge that every organization struggles with — communication. The uncertainty created by lack of communication is one of the most common issues that undermines engagement. A few places you might consider improving that are:

  • Consistent one-on-one meetings and check-ins between managers and employees. This is perhaps the most powerful communication platform at your disposal. Help managers learn how to use them effectively for two-way feedback and expectation setting
  • Regular forums for conversation between employees and executives about what's happening in the organization. This can range from town halls in smaller organizations to video casts and blogs in larger organizations
  • Implement and support the use of internal social networking and messaging platforms. There's no shortage of tools available to organizations (Slack and Microsoft Teams, for example). These communication tools enable employees to receive information more regularly and equips them to quickly find the information they need. Plus, savvy HR teams can participate as a way to keep a pulse on the organization

As you review and plan for how to increase employee engagement at your organization this year, be careful not to get so focused on your survey results that you overlook the opportunities for impact that are right in front you.

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