Employee EngagementTalent Management

Fresh Approaches to Engagement

Five best practices for improving company culture in the new world of work.

By Susan Insley

As businesses navigate unprecedented times, HR leaders have many priorities on their agendas. At the top of the list are ways to promote healthy relationships and boost employee happiness. Given the conclusive link between happiness and productivity found by Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, being able to do so would be a big win for organizations of all sizes.

Employee experience leaders need to take bold steps to keep workers engaged and strengthen company culture. Here are five best practices that employers can keep in mind when doing so.

1. Increasing access to mental health coaches and professionals. There is urgency to create and maintain a healthy work environment as employees continue to process having lived through an extraordinary time of change. Work environments need to be comfortable places where employees feel supported enough to not just ask for, but to provide help, without fear or stigma. To create such secure spaces, companies need educated and informed HR departments and senior leaders.

Organizations should consider adding a dozen or so free benefits to what they typically provide to create several touch points along a spectrum keeping mental health in mind. For example, providing life coaching for an unsure employee is a good start over all-in therapy with medical attention. These kinds of new services can help employees navigate through stress and burnout, as well as isolation as collaboration with co workers has been reduced. Since the services are free of cost, there is also no financial burden.

While providing access is great, organizations can still do more. HR should also consider hosting sessions for educating managers about common signs of struggling employees and where to direct employees for whatever help they need.

2. Offering frequent manager forums. Remote working changed the way managers can reach out and check in on their employees, delivering healthier management and improving company culture. The overall strategy of management styles is no longer the same, increasing the need for HR departments to work with company leaders through refreshed manager forums.

In some cases, a fresh approach to management has produced new practices such as coaching-learning circles. In these one-hour sessions, managers lead with HR support, but they also make a point to listen. By leaning in and sharing real-world lessons and struggles, all managers can provide feedback on how to further assist their employees on a day-to-day basis.

With these informal peer coaching groups, managers can better connect with their employees and reinforce the importance of healthy management and a strong company culture.

3. Applying the three Cs to all workers. Because more organizations are opting for a hybrid work or permanent remote work experience, HR needs to ensure that all engagement techniques apply everywhere -not just within the physical office setting. As part of this effort, HR leaders must continually reinforce the three Cs with managers: communication, clarity, and choice.

  • Communication. Employees should be encouraged to share what knowledge is known and what gaps are missing. When they have completed the learning process, it is important to communicate that as well. Managers should communicate business or technical reasons for a change to help employees understand and come to terms with it faster, which can also increase morale and confidence.
  • Clarity. Provide transparency to employees about how they fit into strategic plans by role, description, and purpose. As more employees work in different settings, it is important to offer clarity as to why certain employee roles are categorized as hybrid or remote while others are required to report to the physical office. In turn, this can prevent hard feelings and make a difference to the overall company culture.
  • Choice. Employees should feel as if they have a voice in how the companies operate. While companies want employees to be present and do their best work, they also want to make sure they are providing the proper environment for employees to thrive.

4. Renewing start-up energy with flexible rollout. Making engagement activities in the workplace more appealing can help maintain or improve culture. Peers and internal teams can serve as a source of inspiration for interactive sessions to improve employee attitude and work morale.

For example, a team at VMware introduced a wide set of engaging employee challenges to create a new-found sense of connection with peers and management. To improve work comradery and energy, an internal Olympics-themed competition was launched for wider engagement. Despite the success of this strategy, the challenge here is to resist mandating everything company wide due to each team having its own working culture. Management does not need to define or dictate what working culture has to be, but rather work with HR on connecting work culture to engagement practices offering broader and flexible operating models.

5. Advancing empathy. Given how turbulent 2020 was, empathy and compassion have become a vital trait for company leadership to have, particularly in business relationships. In the past, it would have been easy for managers and employees to make assumptions of others. However, as personal and professional lives intertwine through remote work settings, listening and understanding from a coworker’s perspective in order to find compromised solutions became a heavily desired quality for a company to demonstrate.

To continue this practice, HR teams should provide more opportunities for continued conversations across all departments, functions, and roles about what practices employees want to carry with them into a post-pandemic world and which they would rather leave behind. This extends to the technology employees use to achieve day-to day tasks and business objectives, creating a need for HR and IT teams to work closer together or to even let employers work from any device. At VMware, its “Anywhere Workspace” solution was structured with this need for flexible collaboration in mind given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. To truly embrace what working from anywhere means, the company combined its innovative technology to manage a multi model employee experience, secure all employees, and automate the workspace.

Recognizing empathy together with a growth mindset while incorporating today’s advanced digital solutions can only boost inclusiveness. Management should always look for ways to involve every single employee level of the company in the decision making process in order to scope out the workloads of others.

Now more than ever, company culture needs new healthy management best practices. And HR teams are just the ones to deliver them, energizing company culture while boosting employee happiness.

Susan Insley is vice president of HR of VMware.

Tags: October 2021

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