“What’s the one thing you’d change about the world of work?”

We’ve learned so much this past couple of years about what we like about our employers and what we may unfortunately dislike. We have also learned whether or not we want to continue to work remotely or go back in the office, or both. A few of my contacts have flat out told me that they are not the “remote” type at all. They need people to stimulate them and keep them accountable to work at all. If they were remote, they would be in their jammies all day. I thought I would be one of those people but honestly found that I enjoyed being remote because I had more privacy to do my job than I did at the office. I worked in a place that had cubicles for human resources and this was not conducive for someone like me who handled all of the employee relations and investigations. Some might say that I could book a conference room for those conversations however, I would have needed to book it 9-10 hours a day every day. Being at home alone gave me the freedom to speak out loud where the only one that could hear me was the person on the phone and my pet bird!

I would like to hear what your preferences are and how you would like to see your current employer adapt to the new hybrid model. Did they pivot and shift during the pandemic? When they said that you would be returning to the office, if you have already, did they allow for remote work to continue or are they unwilling to do so? If they are unwilling, have they given the team a reason? If so, what was it? If not, what does that tell you about your organization?

I would love to have you comment below on what your ideal situation would be. What would that look like. We have seen lots of polls out there but not a lot of substance. Each company is different and not all positions can be remote. Not all companies can. What are your thoughts?

#ConversationsForChange #FutureOfWork

The Art of Active Listening

Have you ever been in a situation when you were sitting down with someone having a conversation and you were trying to listen to them? All you wanted to do was butt in and tell them your story, your opinion and all the examples that match theirs? Then instead of listening to them and hearing what they had to say, you did just that?

Active listening is one of the hardest things to do because it is about the other person in the conversation. It is about what they are saying and not about how you can “one-up” them or compare their stories with your own.

Now, active listening can have some paraphrasing in it. If you are trying to understand something, you can paraphrase what they just told you so you can make sure you understood what they just said, but it is not a time for you to say, “Oh, yeah, one time, this thing just like that happened to me and…”.

You might be really surprised how hard it is to listen to your friend or co-worker without talking over them or interrupting them. I challenge you to try it. I guarantee you will fail the first few times you do it but that is okay. I want you to fail. Failing forward is the only way we learn. Keep having these conversations and each time get better at not saying anything. Really try to listen so you can hear what your friend or co-worker is talking about.

If you practice long enough you will learn more and have better communication with that person. You will also gain their trust and admiration that you are someone they can count on. Most people just want to be heard. When they are, they feel validated. Some people may not normally have the chance to offer up their ideas for improvements in the workplace and the company may find that these team members and their ideas are valuable.

The best part of active listening is when you are sitting with close friends, and they need you. You can hear their frustrations or sadness, sympathize with them and in the end, you are able to ask questions, offer support, and tell them that you are there to listen whenever they need you. They will know this to be true and trust you. They will in turn, hopefully be there for you when you need someone to listen.

Conversational Interviews

Recently, I commented on a post about making interviews a conversation rather than an interrogation and it got me thinking about this blog that I do. I am one of those strange people that love to interview when I am looking for a job. I do not like looking for a job, mind you. I would rather have one however, I love when the interviewer asks questions that I have not had before, and I really get to dig deep into my past and talk about the fun that I have had in my past career as an HR professional. Yes, I have had fun!

If you are an HR person like me, you are truly passionate about the subject of HR. Employee relations, training, and yes, even the icky stuff like FMLA, ADA, and worker’s compensation. Of course, we prefer things that make us happier like the employee relations stuff and training, but it all balances out if we have a good team and a great boss.

Let us get back to the interview process though. In the beginning when we are hiring for a position and we have the luxury of conducting a phone interview with the candidate, I personally like to ask two types of questions. The first few are housekeeping questions. Why are you looking? What kind of notice are you giving? How did you hear about us? What kind of salary are you looking for? This last one is tricky because people get shy about this one. I personally like to give a range so that there are clear expectations of where the salary is compared to where their budget lies. If they know what the range is, they can see if it fits within their needs. If not, then the interview can end right then and there. We do not waste each other’s time. The next set of questions pertain to the job itself and I always begin by saying the following sentence: “I have a bunch of questions and I hope to have a fun conversation with you. During the course of our conversation, you might answer questions I have not asked you yet, so bear with me while I take notes, lets have some fun!” Then we begin. This is when you start the conversation. The interview may start out slow but if you engage in something they say, the candidate may start to relax and show you bits and pieces of their personality or the true passion they have for the position they are applying for.

One of my favorite conversations was with a man that loved to garden. We were hiring for a groundskeeping role, and he was talking about how much he loved to garden. He went on about the tools he liked to use to edge the lawn and how he took pride in making the edge straight up the walkway to the front door. It was moving. I know that sounds silly, but he was so passionate about what he did for a living that I moved him on to the next round and he got the job. He has been with the company for 12 years now. He does not need to be promoted; he is not looking for a management position. He is content and happy living his best life making the garden, lawn, and grounds beautiful and being happy in the process. A true work/life balance.

I know that sometimes we focus on the gaps in employment. I even have some gaps. Life happens. Sometimes we take time to have kids, we get laid off and have a hard time finding a new job due to the economy, we have ill family members that need care. As an HR professional, I tend not to focus on these too hard. I will ask about them, I want someone that is serious about staying in a position because as we all know, turnover is expensive. We do not want to have to rehire someone over and over again.

It is time to have those fun conversations with your candidates, see what you can find out. Listen to the other jobs that they have worked and the other skills they gave obtained for the current position you are offering. Education in a field is great, but you cannot beat real-world work experience. When a candidate is comfortable, they will reveal more of themselves to you.

Is It Happy Hour Yet?

Why do we limit happiness to an hour?

We have all been there; It’s Monday afternoon and the first day of the workweek, already you and your colleagues are itching to get to happy hour to bitch about your day. Why aren’t we happy at work?

Now, I’m not saying that leadership should have an open bar in the office, but the atmosphere obviously requires an upgrade if by 10:00 am your team needs a collective drink.

Of course, what I’m talking about is company culture. Is yours so bad that your team would rather be buzzed to cope? How can you change it?

The Bartender is Essentially your HR Director

The bartender is always there to listen. Listen to your troubles and offer tools to cope. The difference is, they are handing out rum and cola, where your HR team can provide tools like mediation, suggestions for improvement, and company-wide training.  Now, HR can’t solve all the problems of corporate unhappiness alone. To change the culture and make things “happy” again, you must start at the top and require buy-in from your leadership. Communicate with the workers to find out what they think can be improved. Reevaluate the mission of the organization or write a new one.

Don’t Belly up to the Bar, Raise it.

  • Raise the bar on the expected behavior of the team at all levels
  • Raise the bar on the benefits you offer
  • Raise the bar on the compensation you provide

Expect Results to change, but not immediately. Like a fine wine, culture change takes time and nurturing.

Cheers to You!

You have gone through the process of culture change. You have partnered with your HR Director and created an atmosphere that your employees can enjoy. You have asked for feedback and listened to your team members to provide better products and services for them and their families. Great job! This rounds on me!

Best to Work For?

We’d all like to say that we are the best company to work for or an “Employer of Choice”. The reality is that the only way to really know or find out if you are is through open communication, employee engagement surveys, and a constant dialogue with your team members.

Communication

You must first build a trust with your employees. In my opinion this always starts with communication. That can mean via an intranet for the staff (provided they all have access to it); a monthly or bi-monthly all-staff meeting; departmental meetings with supervisors, managers, and directors passing along information, goals, and accomplishments; or group email announcements (again, the employees must have access).

If you have diversity in your organization, English will most likely be a second language and need to be taken into consideration when creating an article or group emails for all-staff distribution. You must be sensitive to all employees in the organization.

Meat and Potatoes

The next items are the intrinsic and extrinsic values the employees need to have in order to feel safe in your workplace. We have covered these meat and potato items before but a short list here doesn’t hurt to repeat.

  • Compensation
  • Medical
  • Dental
  • Vision
  • Recognition

Mission and Vision

Does the organization have a clear mission and vision that could be stated by any employee in the company at all levels? If not, then that should be your priority. It shouldn’t be more than a sentence or two and should be verbalized and demonstrated from the executives through the entire management team. You must model the behavior you wish t see from your team.

This mission and vision statement is the foundation of your culture. Look at the tenure of your employees. Are you tapping into their knowledge of the organization? It is very likely that they were here before you and have a lot to say. Give them a safe place to say it.

Recognition

Recognition is a key component towards a good culture and a great place to work. Don’t use it as a tool to tame the troops. Recognition has to be genuine and I have recently read a book on the five “love” languages of recognition in the workplace. Not all of your team members are going to appreciate a gift card. Especially since they will have to taxed for it.

Some employees just want you to personally say “Thank you” to them. Others might appreciate a nod in a staff newsletter or department meeting. Knowing what your team members appreciate is part of the solution to being a great place to work. It means you are paying attention and are invested in them. They see it. They see almost everything you do or at least their perception of what you do.

Employee Engagement Surveys

The best advice I can give is to really make the survey as easy and anonymous as possible. You don’t want your team to answer the questions the way they “think” you want them answered. You want them to give you real, straight feedback. The Good, Bad, and the Ugly. It might sting a bit but this is how an organization that is truly committed to culture change will find out the best they have to offer and the worst. This will make you an employer of choice. Suck it up and do it right.

Stay Interviews

How Important is Employee Retention?

If you want to keep good employees in your organization you need to ask your team how they are doing. Don’t just rely on the annual performance review for your communication. You should be speaking to your team at least quarterly and I like to work with my managers and supervisors on conducting “Stay Interviews”.

What is a Stay Interview?

It’s a conversation that increases employee engagement and retention.

These structured questions are asked in a casual manner and usually take only about thirty minutes. Here are some examples:

  • What makes you get up and come to work each morning?
  • What keeps you home pressing the snooze button?
  • Do you believe your work here is meaningful?
  • Have you ever considered leaving this job for another opportunity?
  • What can I do as your manager to make your work experience better?
  • If you could change something about your job, what would it be?
  • What motivates you?
  • What might tempt you to leave?

Hey, Wait a Minute…You Asked if they Would Leave?

Yes, I did and you should too. This is not used as a means to punish people and there definitely should be NO retaliation for any answers you receive. This is an information gathering meeting so you may retain the employees that are doing the best job for your team, department, and organization. Remember, that stay interviews are conducted to help managers understand why employees stay with the company and what might cause them to leave.

Communication is a Two-way Street

Make sure you give the employee plenty of warning for this meeting so they have time to prepare and feel comfortable asking you questions during this one-on-one time. In fact, encourage them to come with questions and suggestions.

If you stay on a regular schedule with these interactions your teams will be increasingly engaged and come to expect them. That would be an incredible result! These are only a sampling of the questions that you can ask your team.

Remember these Simple Rules

Never promise something you can’t deliver. This would be a raise, bonus, or promotion. Keep asking them what you can do for them. You are bound to find one or two things you can do for them.

The second thing to remember is to keep these meetings short and sweet. Thirty minutes is the maximum. If the conversation is great and you are both communicating in ways you haven’t before then by all means don’t cut them off, just remember you have other people on your team and want to be fair and consistent.

Employee Engagement, How can I get it?

Employee engagement is when your employees are committed to your organizations goals and values. They are motivated to contribute to it’s success with an enhanced sense of their own well-being.

Instead of starting off with what it is and why we want it, let’s get right in to some examples of what you can do. Are you hungry for information? It’s meat and potatoes time!

Meat and Potatoes; Employee Engagement style…

  1. Try to be flexible in their schedules. I know not all company’s can let people change their start/stop times but if you can, then do it. Give clear guidelines and deadlines for projects and you might be surprised that they get the job on time and correct! When you give them the freedom to finish things at their discretion, you are treating them as the adults they are.
  2. Encourage your team members to volunteer, or better yet come up with an idea and volunteer as a team. Some employers set a side a day of volunteering with specific projects in mind. Ask your team members for suggestions, I bet you will get quite a few!
  3. Build trust with your employees. When you are open and an authentic manager you will build trust and remove the need for them to hide things from you. When they feel they can come to you without retaliation, they will respond better and engage themselves more in the department.
  4. Make sure your team receives their breaks and lunch times. Uninterrupted. Another nice thing to do is if you see an especially stressed out employee, give them a chance to take five to care for themselves. They may have just had a rough experience and need to compose themselves. This shows you care for their well-being.
  5. Ask for feedback from your employees without fear of criticism or judgement. This doesn’t mean you have to implement everything they suggest but make sure you try to choose one idea to put into effect so they continue to share ideas. After all, they are the ones in the trenches making it happen.
  6. Play office games to get them to know each other. Have group fun events like a pizza party or karaoke after work on a Friday night. This breaks the monotony and allows some fun down-time for the team as a whole.
  7. Promote honesty; Build relationships; and show gratitude regularly.

The main way to engage employees is to get leadership buy-in and action. If the executives don’t lead by example the trust is never built and engagement fails.

How do I do this?

Provide your employees with tools for success. If they don’t have the computer, or training, or office supplies necessary and feel like they have to provide all those things themselves, they won’t stick around because they don’t think you care.

Communicate the goals of the organization. Make sure you have regularly schedule meetings with the team so they know the “why” of what they are doing. Let them know where the company is headed and how their contributions are getting them there.

Give them as much autonomy in their roles as you can. I hear it regularly during the hire process that employees want to be valued for their expertise and to have managers just let them do their jobs without hovering. You hired this person for a reason, let them shine.

Recognize their hard work. Not everyone likes open public recognition or a gift card, but telling someone how well they are doing with a “great job” once in a while can move mountains!

Get to know your team. You don’t have to become best friends with everyone and as a manager I don’t suggest you do that at all anyway. However, you can find out about them, what they like, their hobbies, what is important to them, or their charities. Asking about things other than work is another way to show them that you care.

How do I increase Employee Engagement?

Simple. Train them. Give them meaningful work. Make sure they are in the right role. Check in with them often.

What are the benefits of Employee Engagement?

I’m sure you all know but here they are:

  • Higher employee satisfaction
  • Lower turnover
  • Higher productivity

Engage with your team and work with all of your managers and supervisors to create the atmosphere that stops people from pushing the snooze button multiple times and makes them want to jump out of bed and come to work!