How Listening To Your Employees Can Transform Your Business

Listening to your employees is essential if you want to grow your business and be profitable. You need to carry your employees along that journey with you.

They are the face of your business, as well as the engine room,  and their actions on your behalf are key to your business success.  Critically, you must listen to their ideas, hear their concerns and ensure they have the means to voice their ideas and suggestions.

And there is little cost for a huge business advantage.

I am Jill Aburrow and I have been a professional strategic HR advisor for over two decades.

The purpose of this article is to explain “employee voice” and why you should care about listening to your employees.  I will share some of the mechanisms you can use and some of the barriers you may come up against.

Most of all, I hope to inspire you with some of the benefits if you get it right.

What is “employee voice”?

We all spend a great deal of time at work.  How tragic it is that some people are very unhappy at work and just live for the working day to end, or the weekend to start.

The reasons why people are unhappy at work are many and varied.  But if you can give your employees a chance to be heard, then that will be a big start to improving things.  We all need to feel that our opinion matters.

There is a great deal of discussion in management circles and the HR world about “employee voice”.  But this is not just about giving employees the chance to have their say.  It is also about the channels of communication.  Additionally, it is about the arrangements the employer makes for employees to be consulted.  It is about employees being involved in decision-making.   And it is a way of ensuring that your workers can influence things which affect them at work.

So it is not just about hearing your employees.  It is also important for you to consider what they say and act on it.

Why should employers care?

Your employees are the best placed to tell you what works and what does not work in their individual part of the business. If you can gather that information and make productive use of it, then you will improve decision making and innovation in your business.

From an employee perspective, they will feel more motivated and get more enjoyment from their work.  You will benefit from their creativity and increased commitment.  You are likely to see higher productivity and reduced absences and turnover.

What are the benefits of listening to your employees?

Your employees are also in a good position to warn you about any potential problem areas or difficulties.   This might be for them personally, or in the wider team arena.  You can then adjust the working arrangements accordingly. Or you might need to provide training, or move people around to make the best use of their skills.

If you create opportunities for employees to be heard at work, then you are treating them as valued stakeholders in your business.  They will feel able to influence their working conditions and this will help to build trust between employer and staff.

Where the working relationship is good, your employees will feel able to share suggestions for improvements in the organisation.  For this to happen, they need to trust that you will listen to their suggestions and that they will not be blamed if things go wrong.

Mechanisms for listening to your employees

The obvious way for you to be able to listen to your employees is to arrange regular one-to-one meetings with their line manager.  Of course, you need to ensure your managers (including you!) are equipped to listen properly.  They must have the communication skills to hear, deal with and respond appropriately to anything raised.

Some other potential channels for employee voice to be heard are:

  • Team meetings;
  • Trade unions (where they are recognised within the workplace);
  • Staff forums;
  • Suggestion schemes;
  • Attitude surveys;
  • Workplace social media.

It is unlikely that you would use only one of these mechanisms, but you can use a variety which suits your business.

If you have 50 or more employees in your organisation, then the Information and Consultation of Employee Regulations (ICE Regs) apply.  This means your employees have the right to request that you make arrangements to inform and consult with them about workplace issues. If you need support and advice on this, then please don’t hesitate to contact us.

What can go wrong?

If your employees do not feel they can raise issues, concerns and suggestions at work, then it is very likely that they will become disengaged.  The symptoms of this are likely to be an increased absence rate, higher staff turnover, clock-watching.  Their performance may get worse and they may have difficulty in relationships with managers and colleagues alike.

Additionally, employees may use other channels to express their feelings about work.  They may complain about work through external social networking channels.  They are likely to complain to friends and family.  This will not be good for your employer reputation and may have a negative impact on things like recruitment and marketing.  You may find your clients become less satisfied.

Barriers to effective “employee voice”

Sadly, it is not uncommon for employers to find that their employees fail to speak up about concerns or suggestions.   Even where people feel their suggestions could make a positive difference to their work or workplace, they are often reluctant to raise things.

This can be caused by a lack of trust between managers and employees.  There can be a perception that people may be blamed, or even punished, for speaking out.   Even if this is not the case, it can cause people to remain silent, which can lead to major organisational failure.  When the emissions scandal  hit Volkswagen in 2015, one of the factors was shown to be that people felt fearful of speaking out.

Employees may stay silent because they are frightened of being viewed negatively or of damaging working relationships.   In order to combat this, you need to make sure that people feel safe to raise issues or suggestions.  They also need to feel safe to raise a complaint.  This can only happen where there is trust between employees and employer. It is not good enough to say that there will be no blame.  You must demonstrate that this is true.

People may also think it is not worth raising suggestions because “nobody listens”.  This is why it is critical to respond to all suggestions.  This does not mean you have to agree to every suggestion.  But you need to give reasons why you are not going to take up the suggestion.

The changing work environment

The way we work is constantly changing and this brings new challenges with listening to your employees.

The rise of remote working, variable working hours, alternative work arrangements all have an impact on when and how you can ensure you hear your employees. Changing technology can also have an impact.  It is important that you consider this when you are agreeing to changes or recruiting for new jobs.

Another challenge is the increased diversity in the workplace.  There is a need to consider how you communicate with everyone.  Some may have mental or physical challenges.  Others may be affected by cultural differences.  All of these things must be considered to ensure that you consider all needs when you identify mechanisms for your employees to give their views over their work conditions.

Getting it right 

Listening to your employees can bring positive outcomes for your business and for the individuals who work there.

Being able to participate in decision making is important for employees – both for their wellbeing and their motivation.  It can be the means of improving their working environment and conditions. It can give them a sense of control over their own work.  And it can help them to use their knowledge and develop their skills.

If you listen to your employees and engage with them, you are  likely to benefit from their improved job satisfaction.  You will see higher productivity and innovation.  Your absenteeism levels will reduce and staff turnover will improve.  You are likely to see reduced workplace conflict.

If you get it right, your employees will be involved in decision-making and managing change as you will have effective communication and consultation in the workplace. Your managers will be skilled in listening to people. They will seek the views of employees and make sure their responses are appropriate and timely.

If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support or information  on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

Jill Aburrow runs an HR strategic consultancy business – JMA HR .  She provides strategic HR advice and support to businesses who want to improve loyalty, growth and profit.  Jill has been a professional strategic HR advisor for over two decades. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD) and has a Post Graduate Certificate in Employment Law.

Managing People – And Why You Need To Get It Right

You understand that your employees are key to your business success and you know what are the key ingredients to ensure that morale is high and people are loyal.  You pay well and your staff benefits are as good, or better, than those offered by your competitors.

But you are still having problems recruiting the right people.  Your sickness levels are higher than average, with people constantly taking days off sick.  What is more, you are finding it difficult to keep good people once you have managed to recruit them.

Is there anything you can do to improve things?

Managing people, on a day to day basis, is a challenging task which needs a comprehensive set of skills.  If your managers  do not have the right skills then you are leaving a big part of your business success to chance. This includes you,  if you are managing people yourself.

Choosing Your Managers

When we need to set up a management structure, then our first consideration is who should be promoted into a management position.  Often the choice falls to the person who is the best performer in the team.  This can be a short-sighted way of selecting a manager.  Just because someone is good at the job, does not mean they will be good at managing people who do the job.  Some people do not have the ability to manage people. Others may not have any desire to do so.  There may, of course, be some who want to have the “power” of being a manager, but who have none of the necessary skills..

Skills for Managing People

In order to manage a successful team, managers need to have a variety of skills, and those are not necessarily practical task-related skills.  So the best person for a job may not be the best person to manage others doing that job.

In particular, you need to ensure your managers have a range of more human, so-called “soft” skills.  This includes things like leadership, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, change management.

Some Key Skills for Managers

You might expect a list of the key skills needed to include some of those in the list below.  But others may be more of a surprise. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but covers some of the skills which your people managers need to have.

  • Communication Skills. Every manager needs to be able to communicate with their team members.  This is more complex in these days of remote working and more diversity in the workplace.  Giving and receiving the right messages are both absolutely key to managing a team.
  • Emotional Intelligence. This skill is quoted a great deal as a necessity. A quick look on Social Media shows that Emotional Intelligence is a subject for much discussion. So what is it?  It is difficult to define, but includes things like: keeping an open mind; being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes; compassion and caring; the ability to engender trust;  integrity; honesty; following up on promises; thanking people; engaging with people.
  • Change Management. Any workplace is likely to go through change from time to time.  Sometimes such changes are brought on by external events – eg. legislation.  Or they may come from a changing market or different leadership.  Whatever the reason, people can find it extremely difficult to be productive during periods of change and it is essential that managers have skills to be able to support their teams through it.
  • Stress Management. The mental health of employees is something which is acknowledged more and more in the workplace and managers need to be able to judge stress levels and likely consequences.    They also need to know how to manage employees who have mental (or, indeed, physical) health challenges or issues.
  • Conflict Management. A successful manager needs to be able to resolve conflict between team members. There are likely to be occasions when two people have a difference in opinion and the manager needs to be able to resolve that with a fair and transparent approach.

Managing Time

You may wonder why time management is not included in the list above.  And, of course, it is a critical skill for any busy manager.  But there is also a key role for the Managing Director in this one. You may recruit a new manager, or promote someone into a management role.  But often they are then expected to do their “day job” as well as managing a team of people.  Managing people is a role in itself.

A manager may be able to oversee one or two people as well as doing other work, but they cannot do a good job of managing a whole team of people, as well as having to meet other work deadlines.

This is another reason why it is not a good idea to promote someone to manager because they are good at the work done by the team.  You do not want to lose the skills of a high performing team member.  A good manager will spend a large proportion of their time managing people and so cannot do another full-time job as well.  If you do promote someone, then you need to ensure at least some of their work is taken from them.  This is so  they can concentrate of their management responsibilities.  You also need to invest in some training for them in those required skills.

In conclusion

If you want high performing teams who are productive, loyal and happy at work –  then you need to make sure they are managed properly.  And this does not mean micro-management.

To achieve such growth and productivity for your business, then you need to choose and train your managers carefully.  This will ensure  that they can work with your employees to achieve the best possible results for your business.

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  – or any other strategic HR issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

The Truth About Employees Who Clash With Colleagues

An employer recently told me that he had difficulty in recruiting people who got on with their colleagues.  He thought it was a recruitment problem and the type of people who applied for the fairly basic, menial jobs he had on offer.  The work is boring and so some of the people doing it seem to be unpleasant to others around them.

Then there is either a complaint from someone, or a disciplinary issue.  Or someone leaves work.

But there are things which we can do as employers to improve this type of situation.  And it is worth making the effort.  A happy workforce equals improved loyalty.  That, in turn, brings increased productivity, growth and profit.

What can an employer do about employees who clash with colleagues?

There will always be people who have an “attitude” problem, or who are just plain nasty.  But there is usually a reason for that and most people want to get on with their colleagues.

Firstly, you need to get to know all your employees, especially those employees who clash with colleagues and don’t fit in well.  Have regular conversations with them and build a relationship.  There could be a whole variety of things they are unhappy about – and they may not be keen to talk about some of them.

If you appear to be a remote figure in authority, then you will probably never find out about the problems.  If you are approachable and have a regular chat, then your employees will be able to raise issues with you.

So what can you do, if you have a “difficult” employee who doesn’t make any effort to get on with their colleagues?

Stepping in when people don’t get on with each other

When there is a specific issue which has blown up, then it is helpful to speak to both parties and find out their view and position on the subject.  Don’t be afraid to ask them what they think the solution to the issue might be.  You can then give realistic advice about whether or not their desired outcome is achievable.  If they want something which you cannot provide, then you need to be honest.  But there may be a simple solution which would help everyone to settle down.

You may want to use mediation, which can be really helpful in these situations.  This involves a third party overseeing a discussion between the two parties to try to resolve the issue.  If you think this may be a useful way ahead, then see my article last year about mediation.

Getting it right

There are some key factors which you need to have in place to ensure that employees can work effectively together.

  • Set up a buddy system, so that one of your employees “buddies up” with a new employee. The new employee has someone to ask about things and this will help them to feel less strange.
  • People at work do not have to like each other – they may have nothing in common other than the work. But you need to make it clear that they are expected to behave professionally towards colleagues, clients and anyone else they may meet in the course of their work.
  • We all need to feel we have been treated fairly and with transparency. This builds trust in any relationship and will help an employee to feel valued. So make sure you are treating people equally.
  • There will always be times when people disagree about something. They need to know that their point of view has been considered.  You need to ensure they have an explanation and understanding of why their preferred action has not been taken.
  • If there has been a disagreement and upset at work, then the individuals involved need time to recover. You should not try to micro-manage them or even just keep checking that everything is fine, then they will feel that they are being watched.
  • If the work is boring, then try to introduce some variety into the working day – change teams around. Make sure there are regular breaks. Make sure you thank people for doing work well – and mean it!  Don’t just pay lip service.
  • If possible, try and provide an area where people can get away from colleagues for a few minutes. We all need to cool down and let off steam sometimes and it is good to be able to do that away from prying eyes.

Back to basics

In a recent article, I touched on the four basic reasons why people might not be interested at work.

If an employer concentrates on these four things, they will also help employees to get on with their work colleagues.

Our contribution. We need to be able to understand what our employer’s ultimate aim is and how our work contributes to that.

Appreciation.  The more menial a task might be, then the more important it is that you notice and thank the person doing that task and doing it well.

Our voice. If we have a great idea, we need to be able to explain it to someone who can put it into practice.  If it is not practical, then we need to know why.

Trust. If a job is simple and boring, it doesn’t mean that the person doing that job is stupid.  So trust them to do the job and do it well.  You don’t need to keep checking up on them, or instructing them on how to do it better or differently.

If you get these four basics right, then people will feel more fulfilled and happier at work.  They won’t feel inclined to argue with colleagues or cause a problem in the workplace.

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business –  then please join our mailing list or  contact us for further guidance.

4 Secrets to Stop Your Employees Leaving

A client recently told me he was concerned as his employees don’t want to be at work.  As a result, people go off sick, or they leave.   Sometimes they have not worked for the business very long when they decide to leave.

Another client told me that some of his employees don’t perform their jobs very well.  They just don’t seem to be very interested in being at work. He thought the problem was that the work is boring and he cannot offer much variety.

The reasons why employees become disengaged may not be what you think

The boss often thinks that the reason why people don’t stay long is because they are not paid enough.  Or it may be that the work is boring and mundane and people get bored quickly. Maybe they are just lazy.

Of course, all of those things – and others – could be part of the problem.

But there are some more fundamental reasons why businesses may have trouble in keeping their employees.

The 4 main reasons why people are not interested in their work

1.Our contribution. We all like to believe that we are important.    The need to contribute something to the world is in all of us.  No matter how mundane, “boring”, or repetitive our job may be, it is critical that we can see why we are doing it.

2.Appreciation.  We also want to believe that what we say, think and do is noticed and valued.  We all like to be thanked for things we have done.  It gives a warm feeling.

3.Our voice. Part of being appreciated is being able to give an opinion and knowing that it has been heard.  No matter how mundane the job may be, the person who does it every day is an expert.  They may have a good idea about making it more interesting, or speedier.

4.Trust.  We like to think we can be trusted to “get on with it” without interference or micro-managing.  We want to be able to trust those around us and, particularly, those in a position of authority.  In return, we want them to trust us.

These things are inter-related, but all stand alone as well.  They are the four critical factors if you want to engage with and motivate your employees.

So what should the employer be doing?

1.Vision. You should share the vision for your business with your employees.  All of them.  If your aim is to provide the cheapest Will Writing service in your town, then make sure your employees know that.  Make sure you show each employee that their specific role contributes to that goal.

The work placement student whose job is just to answer the phone needs to know that he/she is a critical part of the operation.  If the phone calls don’t get answered quickly and politely, you risk losing business and credibility.  It doesn’t matter how cheap your service is if you don’t have any customers.

This message should be repeated often.  Make sure your employees know the importance of their part of the business.  Ensure they don’t forget how important you believe they are.

2.Appreciation.  It doesn’t cost anything to thank people for their efforts.  You may think that someone hasn’t actually made much effort.  So thank them for the time they have invested.  Sometimes just an acknowledgement that someone has turned up for work is all that is needed.

One of the most successful managers I know made a point of going to the desk of each of her staff every day and saying “Good Morning”.  She would ask them how they were and have a one or two line conversation, passing the time of day.  It reaped huge benefits for her in terms of loyalty and effort on the part of her staff.

3.Listening.  Many managers say they have an open door policy.  But do they really mean it?  Are they so busy that their diary doesn’t have a free space for two weeks? So if your door is not really open very often, don’t advertise that it is.  Your employees may be brimming with fantastic ideas which could save time, money and effort.  Or they may have a pressing issue which really needs your input.  Or they may just want to let off steam.

You need to ensure that your employees can raise suggestions, complaints or ideas, whatever their reason.  And you need to really listen to those things and respond carefully. If they feel they cannot be heard, they will leave your employment to go and work somewhere else where they can be heard.

4.Integrity and Trust. Your employees need to know that you trust them.  They may need some supervision if they are unsure of the work, or are new to a process.  But once they have learnt the ropes and feel confident, then you should trust them.  Of course, if they abuse that trust, you will need to take action.  But it is much better to trust them until they prove untrustworthy. The vast majority will bend over backwards to deserve your trust.

Strangely, you will find that if you trust your employees and show them that trust, then they are very likely to trust you as well.  That is the basis of a sound working relationship.  Your employees are far less likely to leave your employment if they feel valued and trusted.

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

 

The Facts You Should Know About Employee Engagement

There are many things which are talked about in the Human Resources (HR) world which employers don’t understand or pay much attention to.  They just think it is so much jargon. If they don’t understand it, the danger is that they ignore it.  This can cause them problems in their business.

Employee Engagement probably comes under that heading.  So the purpose of this article is to explain employee engagement.  It is important to you as an employer – for business success and growth.  It should be easy to achieve, at least on a basic level.  And it is something which needn’t cost you much money.

So what is employee engagement and why should you care?

What is employee engagement?

Essentially, it is the ingredient that makes an employee want to come to work every day. It is what makes employees give commitment and loyalty to their work and workplace.

For employees, it is the feeling of being trusted and valued by your employer.  And it is about understanding your job and how that fits into the overall direction of the organisation. Another element is being free to give your opinion, or raise concerns.  You want to feel that you have been heard and your view is valued.  This doesn’t necessarily mean your suggestions will be acted on or agreed with, but your view is valued and you are encouraged to voice it.

There are many, many factors which contribute to employee engagement and they all inter-connect, but the things outlined above are the basics the employer needs to ensure are in place to help employees feel  engaged.

Why does employee engagement matter?

If your employees like coming to work and are happy when they are at work, then they will be productive.  They will be loyal and will do what they can to support your business.  This equals growth and is likely to bring you increased profits and a more successful business.

Your people are key to business success and you need to put them at the centre of your plans for the business.  Of course, there are other things that are critical to your success.  Some of these are finances; customers; regulation; your ability to innovate.  But these things (and many others) are all impacted by the people in the business and your relationship with those people.

If you do not engage with your employees, then you risk high absence and high turnover of staff.  You will find that your staff lack motivation and cannot interact well with your customers.  They will not be creative or innovative.  They are the key to the success of your business, or its decline.

You can measure employee engagement and you can take steps to increase it.

How can an employer achieve employee engagement?

Employee engagement is a gradual change to the culture of the organisation. It can take some time to achieve changes, but there are things which you can do immediately.

The key is for this to be a genuine change in direction on your part.  It is no good just to pay lip-service to the idea of employee engagement.  In essence, you need to cultivate a real desire and intention to engage with your employees.  You need to listen to them, understand their needs, make changes as a result.

Managers in any organisation are critical to the success of employee engagement.  You need your managers to buy into the change. They may even need some development and skills training.

You need to have a clear vision for your organisation.  For a start, you need to understand what it is that you are aiming to achieve and you need to be able to communicate that to your staff. Ideally, you can then help your staff to understand how their specific job contributes to the success of that vision.  They need to be able to see that their job is important and valued by the organisation.

It will really help you if you take steps to ensure that you and your managers are effective at managing people.  You need to know how to listen to people and have the skills to motivate and empower them.

Listen to your employees  

Another key to having motivated employees is for them to feel that their views are valued.  They know the job and what works – or doesn’t work.  Undoubtedly, they will have views about the best way to achieve results.   You need to ensure you have a method for hearing what they say.  They will probably have some good ideas, which could make positive changes in your business.  If they come up with a suggestion which isn’t practical, then it is fine to turn the idea down.  But you must explain why it won’t work, or why it needs to be delayed.  The employees want to feel that you have really considered their views

Trust and Integrity – a two-way street

The final key step to an engaged workforce is potentially the most important one.  It involves  building an environment where there is trust between you and your staff.  You need to live up to your promises.  You need to make sure your managers are living up to them too.  It is all very well to have policies and rules, but you need to ensure they are followed – by everyone.  Managers and employees alike.

Summing up the basics of employee engagement

The four key steps to successful employee engagement are:

Vision – have a vision of where your organisation is heading.  Make sure you are able to communicate that vision to your staff, so they can see the importance of their own role in achieving that vision.

Management Skills – make sure you and your managers are skilled in listening, empowering and managing staff.

Listen to your employees – make sure you have a mechanism in place for your employees to voice their ideas, concerns and suggestions.  And ensure that you consider those ideas and give them proper feedback.

Ensure trust is a two-way street – trust your employees and make sure they can trust you.  Live up to promises made.  Apply rules and procedures to everyone, including managers.

These steps are just the starting point, if you really want to engage with your employees.  Over the next few weeks, this blog will cover each step in more detail and talk about some of the many other things you can do to engage with and motivate your staff.

If you can connect with your employees and make them understand their contribution to the success of your business, then you will have a loyal, engaged workforce who will help you to grow your business and increase your profits.

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.