What if difficulties are part of the company’s benefits?

It is employees’ responsibility to take care of themselves. The responsibility of managers and HR professionals is to think about the work environment – the company culture and the organization of work, and what the environment needs to be like in order to make it possible for the employees to take care of themselves.

Your job is not to educate or pamper people. Your commitment is to listen to them, hear them, and understand the signs and feedback which you receive. If the benefits package includes opportunities to eat well, why not also help employees achieve their goals? This can easily turn out to be another element of nascent and all-encompassing concern for employees. When one of the „talents“ in our company took on a team of several employees, I was impressed by the efforts this person was making to persuade those employees to fulfill their goals. Many situations now remind me of this observation.

For example, the long and growing list of benefits in many companies. At the Bulgarian Association for People Management forum in May this year, some HR professionals mentioned that companies’ efforts for employee retention have increased, at the expense of the preceding boom in the search for recruitment services. So far so good, but the practices that I observe are a non-rhythmic combination of “talent” management, attempts to motivate employees, and, of course, benefits. As a colleague of mine once shared: in job adverts it can be observed more and more often that „the job description is this much“ and she looked at the space between her thumb and forefinger with half-closed eyes, „and the list of benefits after that – this much“ and she opened her hands.

Have you noticed how often we ask the question of how engaged our employees are? However, how often do you ask yourself how engaged you are with them? People’s engagement is a reflection of their relationship with the leader. Recently I attended a lecture by Bob Kelleher, founder of Employee Engagement Group. Bob Kelleher used numbers to show what we already know. The most valued qualities of a leader are: competence – 68%, integrity – 78%, and the ability to ensure well-being or be empathic – 79%. There is clearly no way achieve integrity – your values, words and deeds to be on the same line, without being connected to people through the ability to recognize their needs. That is why these two characteristics of an engaging leader received so similar results in terms of percentages. I learned a lot about empathy from Emilia Kraynova from Communication Academy – she emphasizes that empathy is the ability to recognize the many different needs that may be hidden behind the same emotion.

We love to speak using trends. Therefore, I will take advantage of this. I cannot say conclusively, „This is THE trend in human capital management,“ but I would point out the transformation of the HR activity from „employee affairs officer“, relatively speaking, into a business partner in achieving the goals of the company. When this business partner supports the business and acts with competence towards the employees, then they will be able to choose the smartest steps towards those employees. This business partner will not simply work for the employees but will require leaders to be engaged with them. If the HR department is yet another silo in the company, it will then be more difficult to address interconnected priorities – from management practices to benefits at the workplace. People’s engagement is increasingly moving away from a simple one-year engagement survey and is being replaced (worldwide) with regular, short surveys. The latter help HR teams and leaders better understand what employees expect and value. For me, personally, the transformation needed can be found in the following: managing work performance, setting goals, well-being, workplace design and leadership not being separate tasks, but disciplines that „come together“ at one point – this point is an organizational culture which makes people stay connected – with management and with each other. In short, HR is not Human Resources, but Human Relations.

I would add to this – there is no trend in the world of people management and well-being that is new. Some issues have just become pain-points now, so we’ve started to pay attention. Just like when kilograms start to feel heavy, our knees hurt or, God forbid, when we find out that we are prone to heart attacks. I don’t think that the world has become more complex – I think we have more resources to observe it and to draw conclusions. My personal conclusion is that workplace experience has already become visibly important and we feel increasingly more confident managing it instead of managing productivity. So do not simplify and do not satiate the hunger for experiences with benefits. Think about the healthy portions – isn’t it true that when you are on a diet you try not to overeat? Think about the simple things you know – how devastating a feedback-free experience is; how people wander when they don’t have clarity on their goals; how critical it is to be able to share. Allow employees to taste success one spoonful at a time. Even celebrate the steps on the way to the achievement. I am waiting to come across other job adverts, besides those of my own company, in which the things listed at the top are described as benefits, instead of things that people receive.

Retention requires being able to apply an individual approach to everyone, knowing what people want, and finding a balance between all of their wishes, but only as much as it helps both them and the business to grow. Studies of what people want are constantly coming out – well-being, work-life balance, the opportunity to work remotely. If we simply take these expectations as a ready-to-use list and brandish it at our own company, we will fail to understand what work-life balance means in general, what it means to our own employees, or how working remotely helps them feel better. It is not enough to be remote. The important thing is to understand what happens differently and which aspect of their performance is affected. And remember – what happens in their personal lives has a crucial impact on their engagement. You have no influence there. You can only acknowledge it and be interested in it. Keep this in mind. Observe your employees. Usually, those who are best connected with themselves are also best connected with the company. Only 1/5 of people have been proven capable of being motivated internally, and it is usually the people who act. There are no motivational programs that can motivate a person who cannot motivate themselves. So, don’t bother to motivate them and in this way – to keep them in the company. You’re wasting a valuable resource. Make sure you see how great their ability to stay motivated is, despite the difficulties. Difficulties are not necessarily something bad. What if difficulties are part of the benefits?

The article was published in Manager Magazine, July 2019

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