Is the recession over? Maybe, but employers are certainly not rushing to hire additional workers. And, the ones they have may be feeling overworked and underappreciated—not to mention worrying about raises and bonuses and job security, all of which they may feel are in short supply. Worse still, as you may have heard, it takes an angry employee to sue. Read on for an attorney’s advice about that danger.
Survey results are not good. C.R. Wright, a partner in labor and employment firm Fisher & Phillips’ Atlanta office, doesn’t talk about angry employees; he refers instead to those whose feelings have been hurt, noting that they are more likely to sue than happy ones. And Wright ought to know: He spent a number of years in HR before going into law practice.
Ensuring managers technically comply with all legal requirements isn’t enough, he advises: Employees need to be properly managed and motivated. If they aren’t, not only might they sue but they’re also likely to be less productive than they could be.
Wright points to the telling results of a couple of Gallup Work and Education Polls. In 2005, this poll found that most workers were positive about their jobs: About one-third said they loved their jobs, and less than 10 percent professed dislike or hatred for their work. And, wages were well down on the list of what they liked, which was topped by the work itself and their coworkers.
By 2011, however, the results of that same poll showed a major change: Though most respondents still said they like their coworkers, they were unhappy with health insurance benefits, chances for promotion, on-the-job stress, and job security. Wright suggests concerned HR people recheck the following aspects of their workplaces:
- Are employees encouraged to express opinions and ideas?
- When they do share their thoughts, do managers listen?
- Do managers strive to foster harmony? Do they focus on developing their subordinates?
- Do managers give workers positive feedback and reinforcement?
- Do they manage by walking around, making themselves available for interaction?
- Do they treat each employee as a unique individual?
- Do they act with respect, in a professional and courteous way?
More insights on employee engagement. Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., which describes itself as a global outplacement and executive coaching consultancy, recently surveyed HR professionals about employee engagement. Encouragingly, 80 percent said their organizations are focused on such engagement, with 67 percent saying that focus is greater now than it was before the recession. And, said the firm’s CEO, John Challenger, that’s a good thing, because employees are likely to have increasing opportunities to jump ship, so employers have to try hard to retain them.
As Wright noted, Challenger agrees that “retention is not merely a matter of salary hikes and fancy perks; it is about taking steps to ensure that employees feel they are valued, challenged, and that their contributions impact the bottom line.” The most important aspect of engagement, the Challenger survey found, is employer/employee communication. The most popular morale boosters are bonuses, followed by lunches and parties, paid time off, and flexible scheduling.
Challenger comments that different engagement methods work differently from company to company and also from department to department within companies. He stressed that 83 percent of survey respondents report depending on two-way communication during annual or semiannual performance reviews to gauge the effectiveness of their engagement efforts. "Each person [should come] out of the meeting with a better understanding of the other’s goals, expectations, and motivations." Other means of testing engagement, respondents reported, include staff meetings (67 percent), surveys (52 percent), one-on-one meetings (47 percent), and teambuilding exercises (37 percent).
Challenger’s closing quote: "It is important to remember that employee engagement is not the same thing as workplace satisfaction. If you want to win the hearts and minds of your employees, so that they want to go the extra mile for the good of the company, then the company has to demonstrate that it is willing to go the extra mile for its employees."