“Employees are our most important investment” is an assertion that most every organization makes in its employee handbook. If this is really the case, then why are 71% of employees not fully engaged with their organization, according to Dale Carnegie Employee Engagement Statistics? Why are 26% actively disengaged?
“We all want to feel respected and valued not only for what we know, but also for who we are,” says Shirley A. Weis, the former Chief Administrative Officer for Mayo Clinic, where her work involved overseeing 60,000 employees and $9 billion in revenues. Weis now leads her own consulting firm, serves on national boards and is Special Advisor to the President of Arizona State University. Her recently published book, Playing to Win in Business, is an Amazon bestseller.
Respect is one of the basic needs of all people, adds Weis, who says: “Songs have been written about respect and jokes are told about how ‘I don’t get no respect.’ It is not enough to think about it. Respect has to be demonstrated in order to obtain the full effect. When given, respect strengthens a person’s sense of self-worth, fosters growth and results in more positive interactions, improved relationships and heightened collaboration. It is an amazing antidote to the disengagement that employees often feel in the workplace today.”
There are two rules regarding respect, says Weis.
- You have to give it to get it. Too often people focus on fighting for respect when the great secret is that it comes to you when you give it away.
- Respect is earned. When we openly and sincerely affirm the worth of others and express appreciation for their unique contributions, respect follows.
When you go out of your way to try to understand and help your employees, it strengthens your relationship and establishes a connection on an emotional level.
“Your expression of regard for the person helps build trust and fosters a better working relationship in the long run,” says Weis. “It is a basic building block for gaining respect.”
Try these 10 simple behaviors and see how positively employees respond:
1. Smile, say “Hello” and establish eye contact with each employee you meet today.
2. Learn the name and backgrounds of the employees that you see or work with regularly.
3. Strike up a conversation with employees in elevators, hallways and parking lots.
4. Ask employees what projects they are working on and what challenges they are facing.
5. Leave your digital devices in your pocket or office so you are not distracted in public areas.
6. Make a point of shaking hands, greeting each employee by name and actively seeking their input in discussions during meetings.
7. Point out the ways that each employee’s actions are helping to advance the company’s mission.
8. Sincerely recognize and thank employees for their contributions to the organization.
9. Provide regular feedback about each employee’s performance—both positive and corrective.
10. Express your trust and belief in the abilities of each employee.
In many cases, employees are unofficial brand ambassadors: they go out in the world and tell their family/friends/acquaintances what it is like to work for your company, says Frances Cole Jones, author of How to Wow: Proven Strategies for Selling Your (Brilliant) Self in any Situation and The Wow Factor: The 33 Things You Must (and Must Not) Do to Guarantee Your Edge in Today’s Business World (Ballantine Books/Random House).
Bad word of mouth is a slow killer.
“It takes both time and energy to find and train a new employee,” says Jones. “If you don’t do it well and/or you don’t foster an ongoing relationship with that employee – and they leave – you are back at square one: Recruiting, training, fostering. It’s both fiscally and energetically cheaper to invest in the employees you have than to have to begin at square one every few months. In addition, high turnover in the office kills morale for the employees you do retain.”
Frankly, if your employees are disgruntled, how comfortable are you going to be in your own office? It’s to your advantage to get into the trenches with your employees and get their buy-in. Not doing so breeds resentment and distrust – for both of you, says Jones.
While many companies are quick to mouth platitudes about the fact that employees are their most important investment, many would fail an audit to determine if they follow through on this in their HR practices, says Ron McGowan, a former small business owner and recruiter who is the author of the international bestselling book How to Find WORK – In the 21st Century.
The frantic pace of work stands out to McGowan when he looks at how companies operate today compared to how companies used to operate. There’s no easy solution to correcting this, we’re a society that often operates in a frantic mode, he says. If you asked employees, managers and HR people how often they disconnect from the busyness of their daily activities and take time to reflect on how things are working and how they may be improved, you’d probably get some funny looks.
“But a place to start is to recognize the problem and make sure that people have the time needed to do good work and make good decisions like hiring the right people,” says McGowan. “Good management practices and HR policies and procedures that could help employees and make them feel valued and connected to the organization, often take a back seat in our current, frantic, pace of business and life.”
How can an employer do this? Solicit employees’ opinions is a good start, says Jones. Ask questions along the lines of, “If you were sitting where I am sitting, what would you do?” If their suggestions are untenable, try to find at least one aspect of their contribution that is helpful. For example, if they say, “We need more flex time – I would like to work from home three days a week” and that’s not possible, an employer might say, “I understand your desire for more autonomy. Three days a week of flex time might be a lot to start, but perhaps we can discuss one day a week/adding to your personal or vacation days/you arriving later or leaving earlier.”
If an employer sees an employee doing something mysterious, rather than simply reprimanding the employee, Jones encourages asking, “Can you tell me why you are doing it that way?” This assumes a good intention/intelligence on the part of the employee. Then, if their action is still incorrect, you can say, “My request is that you do it the way you’ve been shown because (give a reason other than ‘because I said so’) if the difference between your way and their way isn’t that big a deal, let it go and praise their initiative. Finally, the employee might actually have a better way and the employer can learn something.
In the long run, it’s important to show you trust your employees, says Jones. Let them grow, building that trust over time.
“Give employees as much autonomy over decision-making within their sphere of influence as humanly possible,” says Jones. “No one likes to feel like they are not trusted. No one likes to be checked up on. There is something soul-crushing about dealing with an employer’s low expectations. Keep expectations high and let your employees know you have every confidence in their ability to meet, and exceed them.”
They are, after all, your, most important investment. Use these tips to show them exactly that.