How can HR engage bored employees?

An HR director at a billion-dollar tech firm says this is the key

How can HR engage bored employees?

Engaged employees are more productive than the average worker – about 44% more, according to a study by Bain & Company and EIU Research. While employees who are simply satisfied with their jobs will give you their 100%, engaged workers have been found to give 144%.

If you want employees to give you more than their 110% to the job, making the effort to engage them at work will go a long way in improving productivity – besides other positives like better retention rates.

Driving engagement in a global organisation however may not be easy, because as most HR professionals note, an engagement strategy cannot be “one-size-fits-all”. How should HR go about it then?

“If your employees are engaged, they’re giving an additional 44% [to the company] – and engagement goes back to having a strong purpose,” said Susannah Groves Kellar, director, Talent and Culture at Sabre Corporation, a travel technology company.

Helping employees establish a sense of purpose with their jobs, Kellar shared, begins with making employees understand that the business “has a direction”.

“Companies have to be able to articulate their [business] direction. When you articulate the business strategy to your employees, they’ll start to row in the same direction – and then it’s all about performance,” she told HRD.

The business thus has a role in making its priorities clear. But how does that translate into performance and talent development? Kellar said HR can consider how the different roles in the company can contribute to those “business priorities” and help employees build a sense of purpose with their work.

Reaching out: from the mailroom to marketing
Helping all employees – from the mailroom to marketing – figure out their sense of purpose is not just HR’s responsibility. Especially for an organisation like Sabre, which has over 10,000 employees globally. This is why managers play a crucial role in HR’s engagement strategy, said Kellar.

“HR’s role is to ensure there’s a process in place that allows managers to have those conversations [with employees],” she said. “Managers have to have them because let’s say the worker is in the mailroom, they need to understand what they do translates to [the business priorities]. The only person who can have that conversation is the manager and the employee.”

Besides ensuring that proper processes are in place, HR’s role should also involve training managers to give feedback and guide employees in the right direction.

“You have to be very intentional about coaching managers. I think they need to understand the ‘why’,” Kellar said. “In order to change behaviour, you have to help people understand for themselves why it matters.”

She then explained how such a session could look like. It could involve HR or other leaders having a casual sit-down with a manager, saying things like, “this is why this is important to our organisation. As a manager, you are a critical element to our success”.

“Putting back that accountability on them is also another tool you have to use to drive engagement,” she said. “You can’t leave it all to HR. It has to be on managers as well.”

And it’s only fair to give managers the right tools before making them accountable for engaging employees, Kellar added, which is why HR should invest in training and communicating with managers.

“Educating employees to help them understand is important – and managers are employees too,” she said. “They need to understand the entire scenario as well so that they can have conversations with their managers and remain engaged.”

A long-term engagement
Managers are crucial in the day to day engagement of each worker but what else can HR do to ensure employees remain engaged in the long term?

Being in talent management, Kellar believes technology is a useful tool in driving long-term engagement. She shared that Sabre has “heavily invested” in several SuccessFactors modules, where she can track an employee’s entire life cycle with the company, from pre-hire to “graduation”.

With the data they retrieved from the SuccessFactors platform, Sabre’s HR team has determined that one way to drive engagement is by prioritising internal promotions over external hires for openings in the company.

“HR is already a cost centre, so we want to make sure we’re able to reduce the impact on the business bottom line,” she said. “Instead of going outside [of the organisation], where it can cost about twice as much to replace someone, why don’t we internally promote and drive engagement as well?”

Despite technology’s important role in driving long-term engagement, Kellar said she thinks having a more “systematic and holistic” process that includes managers engaging managers and having the right conversations for instance, still play as crucial a role, if not more in the grand scheme of things.

Processes and tools are important, but it shouldn’t go against the true purpose of the strategy, she explained.

“Don’t let the HR complexity get in the way of the point of the process, which is to have performance conversations,” she said.

“One of my favourite stories is from an anonymous employer: an employee said to their manager, ‘well I haven’t had a mid-year conversation’. The manager then said, ‘well you don’t have goals in the system’.

“You can still have a conversation! Yes, you need to have goals in the system and track them but don’t let that get in the way.

“We can sometimes get in our own way of what we really need, which is helping people understand their purpose and how they can contribute to the success of the organisation.”


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