7 Strategies to Improve Your Organization’s Employee Relations

Most leaders intuitively understand the importance of building strong employee relations, whether that is to help retain current talent or to create an employee value proposition that attracts others to join your organization. But what exactly do we mean by the term “employee relations”? Does our definition and strategies change depending upon the context we are analyzing?

Defining Employee Relations

In one sense, the concept of employee relations describes the general attitudes employees have towards their employer. In this context, we are talking about employee perceptions, attitudes and beliefs surrounding basic concepts such as general working conditions, employee benefits, worker pay, or their organization’s social impact. Indeed, employee relations is a key component of a recent movement known as ESG investing (environmental, social, corporate governance). This entails focusing on making investments in organizations that behave ethically towards their employees, society at large, and the environment.

At a granular level, we can think of employee relations as the discrete relationships an individual employee has with their employer at various touchpoints. For example, how strong is the relationship an employee has with their supervisor, or how does an employee feel when interacting with HR? The employee experience is, therefore, the sum of these various, distinct relationships. Thus, employee relations can be both individual and collective.

Finally, the term employee relations sometimes has a different connotation when used in the context of worker movements. An example of this might be the desire on the part of employees to organize and collectively bargain. In this setting, employee relations pertains to the balance of power between an organization’s management and its workers. Additionally, employee relations describes the efforts between unions/associations and employers to maintain strong working relationships while respecting each other’s inherent differences of opinions, purposes, and perspectives.  

Employee Experience: Listening Strategies

The leaders that will succeed in the next decade are those who will commit to understanding their employee relations and then take action to improve conditions when possible. Employee relations, however, is a multi-faceted concept. Understanding the complexity requires more than an employee survey administered by HR every 18 months (although this is vital, too). Comprehensive EX listening programs use a variety of strategies to understand perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs both longitudinally throughout the year as well as hierarchically throughout the organization.

We recommend the following 7 strategies. These strategies can collectively be designed into an EX listening program to help leaders navigate their employee relations.

1. Use a formal, continuous 360 degree feedback program

A formal, continuous 360-degree feedback program will help managers understand the experience their direct reports and other coworkers are having with that manager. Continuous 360-degree programs are different than an occasional 360-degree assessment used for development purposes. In this setting, 360-degree assessments are regularly administered (somewhere between 12 – 24 months) and managed by the organization’s’ talent development team to ensure leaders have the feedback they need. These programs have the added benefit of producing aggregated data analytics to show larger trends where the organization (or pockets within the organization) are succeeding or struggling.

2. Implement quarterly, predefined pulse check-ins

Managers can receive feedback on how they are doing across various themes, metrics, and categories from quarterly, predefined pulse check-ins. These check-ins are updated quarterly but are short in nature, so they do not impose a burden on employees.

3. Look for ways to integrate performance data

Employee relations is a 50/50 proposition. Yes, we need to understand how employees feel about their experience, but leaders need to know how well employees are doing in moving the organization forward. They need to know which employees are contributing and those that need to improve their performance.

4. Use a mix of confidential and nonconfidential research as part of your EX program

An annual survey is vital because results are aggregated and confidential. This allows employees to voice their concerns without fear of reprisal. Yet, in other ways, we need to know how a specific individual feels. Consider adopting open-text questions sent directly to individuals based on a sampling algorithm. A simple question could be, “Please describe the experience you are having right now at [organization’s name].”  These answers can then be processed through robust text analytics models to help uncover themes or concerns.

5. Treat your employees as internal customers

Use customer experience (CX) style check-ins to understand how employees feel about their interactions with HR, IT, etc. A listening program can be structured to trigger feedback requests when a service event takes place.  For example, if an employee interacts with the organization’s benefits portal, a pop-up can be inserted that requests feedback, such as “Tell us how we are doing,” followed by a feedback scale. 

6. Mine your data exhaust

Data exhaust refers to the vast amount of data that exists in current information systems that can be exported and analyzed for trends, etc.  For example, Zoom can tell you how much time your teams are spending on video calls, both internally and externally. For organizations with even more sophisticated data analytics operations, mining data exhaust can be an excellent way to understand the experience employees are having. For example, consider conducting a study on whether calendared meetings (data extracted from IT systems) are too long, too burdensome, or just right.

7. Talk with a DecisionWise Consultant

For those that work with unions or have employees considering their options in this regard, talk with a DecisionWise consultant on how to use EX insights to help manage union relationships.  We have successfully helped many clients, in conjunction with labor counsel, to understand and navigate the murky waters that exist when dealing with unions.  A strong EX listening program is vital in knowing best how to work with unions and worker movements.    

As Peter Drucker once observed, “You can’t improve what you don’t measure.” The key to improving employee relations is taking the time to understand the experience your employees are having. This means more than an occasional survey administered by HR. It is about implementing an always-on EX listening program that consistently provides leaders with insights that matter.

5 Tips To Master Employee Retention in 2020

Employee Retention team

Every organization has three implicit or explicit contracts: Brand, Transactional, and Psychological. When we consider how to master employee retention, most of the intangible moments and nonverbal interactions in a company fall squarely within the oft-neglected Psychological contract. But as it turns out, it may be the most crucial.

As discussed in the book, The Employee Experience: How to Attract Talent, Retain Top Performers, and Drive Results, the Brand Contract and the Transactional Contract address employee expectations that are typically evident and open. Like the offer letter a new hire receives from her employer spelling out the benefits, job description, and the you-do-this-and-we’ll-give-you-that kind of language. However, other expectations are often obscure and remain unstated. These expectations fall under the Psychological Contract i.e. the unwritten, implicit set of expectations and obligations that define the terms of exchange in a relationship.

Get the Book: The Employee Experience

When talking with organizations about problems they’re facing, they often refer to problems within their company in the same way one would talk about problems with a significant other. “I feel betrayed by the company!” or “This place is really fun/stupid/boring/awesome.” Employees talk about a “lack of trust” in the company’s leadership, or nostalgically reference the “honeymoon” period. But this phenomenon doesn’t end there. We name our cars, confess love for sports teams, and manifest the same brain patterns with brand recognition as we do with religious experiences. All in all, it turns out we have a pretty hard time not anthropomorphize inanimate objects and abstract ideas.

We are on the crest of a new age: the “Age of the Employee.”  Employees are recognizing that they have more power to shape their career path than ever before, and one of the main things they are looking for is, in the most literal sense, a better relationship with their job. If your company isn’t providing it, someone else’s will. Because of this, smart companies will embrace this idea of re-imagining the relationship with their employees as their secret retention advantage. And it becomes much easier once they realize that we already know exactly how to do this. The same research that shows us how to create great interpersonal relationships maps perfectly onto employee relations with their company.

Master Employee Retention Tip #1: Contempt is the great relationship killer

To preserve and foster a great relationship, we have to understand what can threaten it. What’s the number one predictor of divorce? Money usually comes to mind first, but fighting over finances is actually just a symptom of a greater problem. The number one predictor of divorce is actually the presence of contempt. Once a partner sets him or herself above the other, beginning to disregard or dismiss the other, it’s as good as over.

Contempt is an extremely difficult obstacle for a relationship to surmount.

For example, in one organization we worked with, the senior leadership had plenty of great ideas, grandiose projections, and noble values. But none of it was producing company connection because the employees, the boots on the ground, weren’t buying it. For various reasons, they had concluded that their leaders were out of touch and misguided and, as such, every attempt to prove otherwise was perceived in the worst possible way. “Oh you want to give us a raise? What a desperate attempt to curry favor.” This kind of contempt can occur when a company violates their Psychological Contract to the point that employees lose trust and no longer give their employer the benefit of the doubt.

If you want to preserve employee relationships, avoiding the contempt that results from broken contracts needs to be your number one focus. So how exactly can we avoid this death knell? The following tips each provide a piece of the puzzle.

Master Employee Retention Tip #2: Openness and vulnerability are the price of admission

In business terms, we’re talking about transparency and streamlined top-down communication. But in simple relationship terms, we just want partners who aren’t hiding anything. We want trust. Business has a built-in conflict of interest. Employees work hard but often feel their efforts only benefit the CEO’s bottom line. As such, it’s important to deliberately swing the pendulum far back the other way in order to foster confidence. Be open with mistakes. Acknowledge doubt. Be quick to take painful accountability.

Take employees on the ride with you, even when you’re not sure exactly where to go. Trust me, they want to be a bigger part of the company, and when they feel they are, trust and commitment follow. Think of the last friend you had, or someone you dated, that always kept you in the dark about what they were doing or thinking. Someone who kept things “high-level” and only presented a positive façade. How invested were you in that relationship? Not very? So why do we do this to our employees?

Employee Retention Case Study

Master Employee Retention Tip #3: Recognizing bids

Another way to improve our transparency and vulnerability is to be aware of how often we make and accept bids. A bid is a small gesture designed to elicit attention or trust. Imagine a scenario where an employee approaches you, her boss, with an idea or suggestion that is objectively terrible. You gently explain why it probably won’t work and walk away patting yourself on the back for not openly scoffing or getting mad at her for wasting your time. Let’s be honest, you’re the hero here! But it’s not, and never was, just about the content of the idea. She was asking to connect, to have her contributions recognized, and to feel part of the larger discussion. She made a bid for attention and you, though inadvertently, rejected that bid right along with the bad idea. One of the most frequently low-scoring items on our employee engagement surveys is, “This company responds well to suggestions and ideas for change.” That’s a lot of unanswered bids and a lot of missed opportunities to nurture trust.

Master Employee Retention Tip #4: Navigating between equal and equitable

Historically, the employer/employee relationship has been one of hierarchy and imbalanced power. Structurally, it makes sense. An organization needs both leaders who set a direction and followers to help move things forward.

Unfortunately, because of how people naturally gravitate, hierarchy becomes perceived as a value judgment, a statement of relative worth. People farther up the ladder must be more important and therefore better.

When this value judgment trickles into company culture, employees end up doing things because they are told to, rather than because they see the value in their contribution. There is a word for the kind of relationships where one partner is considered inferior and always does what they’re told. And it’s not “healthy” or “stable.”

The Engaging People Podcast

The key to overcoming this negative perception is to embrace the shift toward employees desiring a place at the table. Just getting a paycheck isn’t enough anymore. They want great pay AND meaningful work. Employees need to be valued equally, even while their roles remain equitable. That is to say, everyone contributes in a unique way but all roles are equally valued and respected. A mechanic doesn’t demand to switch places with the pilot. But both are equally important in ensuring a smooth flight, and the pilot knows better than to disregard the person that keeps the plane in the air. So we need to refrain from speaking in terms of totem poles. For example, don’t ever say something like “even the lowest-level employee.”

You may not mean it the way it sounds, but you can understand why someone could hear it that way. And if you ever find yourself dismissing, condescending, or raising your voice at an employee, consider that if that’s not how you would treat a friend, then it’s an abuse of your positional authority and a violation of trust.

Master Employee Retention Tip #5: Loyalty

Loyalty begets loyalty. If we want employees to be loyal to us, showing loyalty to them is critical. My first job was at a fried chicken franchise. I’d seen managers come and go, and most were fairly authoritarian. No matter how many times a counter had already been wiped down, I was expected to put on a show of being busy so as not to displease my manager. After transferring stores, one of my first experiences at the new location was watching a colleague make a mistake and then get berated by a customer.

The customer screamed and ranted and demanded to see the manager, Kevin. When Kevin came out, this customer unleashed a tirade that would make a drill sergeant blush. Not being my first rodeo, I was prepared for the negativity to roll downhill to the rest of us. But instead of validating the customer and raging against us, Kevin immediately grabbed the customer by the shirt front, pulled him over the counter, and uh, sternly informed him to NEVER talk about his employees that way NO MATTER WHAT they had done.

Employee Retention Webinar

As of this writing, I haven’t seen Kevin in 20 years. But to this day, if he ever reached out, I would drop everything to help him. And you better believe that after that he had the cleanest countertops in the business without ever having to ask. What’s more, it was my genuine pleasure to do so. That is the power of loyalty.

And that is the power of having a trusting, meaningful relationship. You can’t buy it and you can’t incentivize it; you can only earn it. Simply showing up never worked for any relationship and it won’t work in business either. So, what effort will you put in to earn a great relationship with your employees?

This is an updated version of  an article previously written by Dave Mason.

Employee Survey

4 Reasons Why Employee Retention Is a Challenge in 2019

Employee Retention

“Back in the day we used to walk to work, in the snow, uphill, both ways!” Yeah, we’ve all heard it before. The older generation in the workforce had it much rougher than we do today, right? For the most part I would say that’s pretty much true. I look at my father who started his career in the early-70s in a steel mill and maintained the same job, in the same small town, most of his life. Like my father, it was fairly common for workers in the 20th century to work for the same company most of their careers according to a Stanford Center on Longevity study. Employee turnover wasn’t as big of an issue.

Download Employee Value Proposition survey sample and report.

Today the average worker’s tenure is just 4.4 years, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics with expected tenure of the workforce’s youngest employees at about half that. The average cost of replacing an employee amounts to just over 20 percent of the person’s annual salary according to the Center for American Progress. That can mean millions of dollars for some organizations. So why does employee retention seem to be getting worse?

Here are four reasons why employee retention is becoming more challenging

1. Strong Economy

Employee Retention

The US economy is hot, and isn’t showing signs of cooling off. That’s a good thing right? Unless you’re trying to hire and retain good talent. The economy is growing and the CBO expects GDP growth of 2.3% in 2019. In May of 2018, job openings exceeded hires. There are more jobs available than can be currently filled, according to the US Department of Labor. Quit rates are also increasing accordingly as workers are finding better opportunities in a better economy. With unemployment rates falling and job opportunities increasing, the power is shifting out of the hands of the employer and into the hands of the employee. Organizations can no longer assume that people NEED them. Top talent will go wherever they choose and with whomever offers them the best fit culturally and financially.

2. Changing Workforce

Millennials, it’s always about those darned Millennials, right? Millennials (adults ages 18 to 34) recently became the largest generation in US Workforce.

Ninety-one percent of Millennials expect to stay in a job for less than three years, according to the Future Workplace “Multiple Generations @ Work” survey. Younger workers historically have lower tenure rates and are more willing to bounce from job to job. Most younger workers are more mobile with less obligations holding them down. Many aren’t married, don’t have kids, and don’t own a house yet. This frees them up to try new things and live in new places. They are also looking for growth opportunities early in their careers to set them up for success in the future. Younger workers also tend to job-hop more than older workers as a means to quicker career advancement. Now that they comprise the largest segment of the workforce, expect to see the overall tenure rate to fall.

3. Technology

smartphone user

Technology makes it easier for people to instantly find and apply for new job opportunities. A few decades ago workers turned to the want ads in newspapers to find jobs. Hot jobs included titles like typists, switchboard operators, mimeograph repair technicians (what?), keypunchers (Doesn’t everyone punch keys nowadays?), and elevator operators. Newspapers even had separate job listings for men and women. Today’s available jobs sound more like Web Developer, Content Marketing Manager, or Search Engine Optimization Specialist. Job seekers no longer turn to newspapers. They turn to the Internet and sites like Indeed, Monster, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn. Qualified job seekers don’t even have to seek nowadays. They can sit back and receive email or text alerts for available jobs that might fit their skill set or interests. Madness I tell you! Employees can browse job sites directly on their smartphones during lunch hour, in the break room, bathroom, or at their desks.

4. Side Incomes

Making money in your pajamas is the true American Dream, right? Non-traditional side incomes are ending the nine to five job where employees once made the slow climb in a company as the once accepted career path. Freelancing and self-employment are ways that modern-day workers are pulling in extra money or even a creating a full-time living. People can now start a business at the drop of a hat and at little cost. Bloggers, YouTubers, Esty’preneurs, and more are setting up shop and producing content online pulling in viewers, customers, and advertisers galore.  According to Craftcount, the successful Etsy shop, ThinkPinkBows, an online shop selling baby hair and clothes accessories, brings in $2 million in sales. Many people are waiting to leave the traditional workforce as soon as their online side-business can replace their income. It’s the American Dream served up on your personal computer in your very own living room.

What can organizations do to improve employee retention?

team employee experience

Now, more than ever, organizations need to focus on the overall Employee Experience. The Employee Experience consists of all of the experiences an employee has, that become pivot points or moments of truth. These experiences shape an employee’s beliefs about the company, its leaders, the brand, and the employee’s overall success in the organization. Consider these questions: 

  • Does your hiring experience excite applicants or does it require them to jump through a series of “hoops” where they feel lucky if they receive any communication from HR.
  • When new employees are on-boarded, do they feel prepared to be successful or are they thrown into the pool to learn how to swim?
  • Are employees excited and energized as a result of performance reviews or do they dread the process?
  • Can your employees become engaged by their work and the mission and values of your organization or are they working for the weekend?
  • Are you using people analytics to understand how your Employee Experience is impacting your business metrics?

Start by finding out how these experiences are perceived by your employees and take the steps needed to improve employee turnover. Become forward thinking. Similar to those in academia who embraced mobile devices and integrated them into the learning process rather than banning devices.  The current job market is in a similar situation. What got you here, will not get you there.

Employee Engagement Survey

4 Reasons Why Employee Retention Is a Challenge

Employee Retention

“Back in the day we used to walk to work, in the snow, uphill, both ways!” Yeah, we’ve all heard it before. The older generation in the workforce had it much rougher than we do today, right? For the most part I would say that’s pretty much true. I look at my father who started his career in the early-70s in a steel mill and maintained the same job, in the same small town, most of his life. Like my father, it was fairly common for workers in the 20th century to work for the same company most of their careers according to a Stanford Center on Longevity study. Employee turnover wasn’t as big of an issue.

Download Employee Value Proposition survey sample and report.

Today the average worker’s tenure is just 4.4 years, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics with expected tenure of the workforce’s youngest employees at about half that. The average cost of replacing an employee amounts to just over 20 percent of the person’s annual salary according to the Center for American Progress. That can mean millions of dollars for some organizations. So why does employee retention seem to be getting worse?

Here are four reasons why employee retention is becoming more challenging

1. Strong Economy

Employee Retention
The US economy is hot, and isn’t showing signs of cooling off. That’s a good thing right? Unless you’re trying to hire and retain good talent. The economy is growing and Forbes expect an even stronger economy in 2018.

In May of 2017, job openings exceeded hires, meaning there are more jobs available than can be currently filled, according to the US Department of Labor. Quit rates are also increasing accordingly as workers are finding better opportunities in a better economy. With unemployment rates falling and job opportunities increasing, the power is shifting out of the hands of the employer and into the hands of the employee. Organizations can no longer assume that people NEED them. Top talent will go wherever they choose and with whomever offers them the best fit culturally and financially.

2.Changing Workforce

Millenials, it’s always about those darned Millenials, right? Millennials (adults ages 18 to 34) recently became the largest generation in US Workforce.
Ninety-one percent of Millennials expect to stay in a job for less than three years, according to the Future Workplace “Multiple Generations @ Work” survey.

Younger workers historically have lower tenure rates and are more willing to bounce from job to job. Most younger workers are more mobile with less obligations holding them down. Many aren’t married, don’t have kids, and don’t own a house yet. This frees them up to try new things and live in new places. They are also looking for growth opportunities early in their careers to set them up for success in the future. Younger workers also tend to job-hop more than older workers as a means to quicker career advancement. Now that they comprise the largest segment of the workforce, expect to see the overall tenure rate to fall.

3. Technology

Technology makes it easier for people to instantly find and apply for new job opportunities. A few decades ago workers turned to the want ads in newspapers to find jobs. Hot jobs included titles like typists, switchboard operators, mimeograph repair technicians (what?), keypunchers (Doesn’t everyone punch keys nowadays?), and elevator operators. Newspapers even had separate job listings for men and women.

smartphone user

Today’s available jobs sound more like Web Developer, Content Marketing Manager, or Search Engine Optimization Specialist. Job seekers no longer turn to newspapers. They turn to the Internet and sites like Indeed, Monster, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn. Qualified job seekers don’t even have to seek nowadays. They can sit back and receive email or text alerts for available jobs that might fit their skill set or interests. Madness I tell you! Employees can browse job sites directly on their smartphones during lunch hour, in the break room, bathroom, or at their desks.

4. Side Incomes

Making money in your pajamas is the true American Dream, right? Non-traditional side incomes are ending the nine to five job where employees once made the slow climb in a company as the once accepted career path. Freelancing and self-employment are ways that modern-day workers are pulling in extra money or even a creating a full time living. People can now start a business at the drop of a hat and at little cost. Bloggers, YouTubers, Esty’preneurs, and more are setting up shop and producing content online pulling in viewers, customers, and advertisers galore. Shay Carl’s family YouTube channel brings in over $1 million per year by simply filming and posting daily videos of their family’s life. According to Craftcount, the successful Etsy shop, ThinkPinkBows, an online shop selling baby hair and clothes accessories, brings in $2 million in sales. Many people are waiting to leave the traditional workforce as soon as their online side-business can replace their income. It’s the American Dream served up on your personal computer in your very own living room.

What can organizations do to improve employee retention?

Now, more than ever, organizations need to focus on the overall Employee Experience. The Employee Experience consists of all of the experiences an employee has, whether predicted or not, that become pivot points or moments of truth. These experiences shape an employee’s beliefs about the company, its leaders, the brand, and the employee’s overall success in the organization. Consider these questions: team employee experience

  • Does your hiring experience excite applicants or does it require them to jump through a series of “hoops” where they feel lucky if they receive any communication from HR.
  • When new employees are on-boarded, do they feel prepared to be successful or are they thrown into the pool to learn how to swim?
  • Are employees excited and energized as a result of performance reviews or do they dread the process?
  • Are your employees engaged by their work and the mission and values of your organization or are they working for the weekend?
  • Are you using people analytics to understand how your Employee Experience is impacting your business metrics?

Start by finding out how these experiences are perceived by your employees and take the steps needed to improve. Become forward thinking, similar to those in academia who embraced mobile devices and integrated them into the learning process rather than banning devices. They understood it would require additional preparation to make class time more interactive and interesting so as not to compete for attention with mobile devices.  The current job market is in a similar situation. What got you here, will not get you there.

Employee Engagement Survey

VIDEO: 5 Employee Engagement Best Practices

State-of-Employee-Engagement-Report

5 Employee Engagement Best Practices

In the VIDEO: 5 Employee Engagement Best Practices I share 5 employee engagement best practices from our 2016 State of Employee Engagement Report.

To compile this report, we surveyed HR professionals from over 200 organizations around the world on what they were doing to address employee engagement.

Join the WEBINAR: “Employee Engagement Survey Best Practices” and get HRCI or SHRM credit

For one of the questions, we asked, “Based on any employee survey results over the past 3 years, has the overall level of employee engagement in your organization trended upward, stayed the same, or gone down.” 32% of organizations reported engagement trending upward, 28% stayed the same, and 17% reported engagement had actually decreased. 

Companies with Employee Engagement Trending Upward

 

When we looked at the 32% who reported engagement trended upward over the past 3 years, here is what we found:

 

1.         Successful companies consistently measure employee engagement.

Most companies with rising levels of employee engagement have measured it at least every year for the past three years or more.

 

2.         Successful companies do better at involving managers in the action planning process.

Companies with upward trending levels of employee engagement also reported that more managers are involved in action planning.
Involve Managers in Action Planning

Involve Managers in Action Planning

3.         Successful companies train managers on employee engagement.

Training managers on employee engagement, and training in general, were two similarities among companies with rising levels of engagement. So investing in the development of your managers pays off in increased engagement.

Train Managers on Employee Engagement

4.        Successful companies measure the ROI of employee engagement.

Specifically, companies that compare their engagement efforts to retention and other performance metrics do better at increasing engagement overall.

Measure the ROI of Employee Engagement

5.         Successful companies work with an outside provider.

Almost 60% of companies with rising levels of engagement report that they partner with service providers to enhance employee engagement. So if your employee engagement program has stalled, you may benefit from the expertise of outside engagement professionals.

Companies tend to work with Employee Engagement outside partners

Want to learn more? Download our 2016 State of Employee Engagement Report to learn about other best practices and to see how your organization compares. This 58-page report shows specifically what organizations are doing to measure and increase employee engagement. 

Take a look at more videos to assist in building a better organization:

VIDEO: 5 Employee Engagement Best Practices

VIDEO: Employee Satisfaction and Engagement. What’s the Difference?

VIDEO: The Influence of Managers on Employee Engagement

VIDEO: The Impact of 360-Degree Feedback Coaching

 

Thanks for reading or watching and best of luck in your efforts to create an engaging workplace.

Employee Engagement Survey