How can HR engage 'checked out' employees?

Is it possible to help them reset and start the new year in a better frame of mind?

How can HR engage 'checked out' employees?

We’ve just crossed over the first week of the new year. Some of us may have set goals for a “bigger”, better year – health-, wealth- or habits-wise. Be it a minor or major goal to achieve, it may help set the tone going into the new year.

But what if someone’s started it thinking, “when’s the next holiday?”, the moment they step into the office after the year-end festivities? Is that what a disengaged employee looks and sounds like? As an HR professional, the “people expert” at the workplace, can you tell who’s disengaged? More importantly, can you help turn things around?

Let’s look at some numbers: there’s 168 hours in a week. Shave off about a third for sleeping and you’re left with 112 waking hours. On average we work about 40 hours a week, if you’re on the clock 9-6, five days a week. Do the math and you’ll see that you’re essentially at work about a third of your life.

If someone is bored or unhappy at work, it could affect their well-being in the long run and thereby, the quality of their work. Worse, instead of planning their “next holiday”, they could be planning their exits as plenty of reports on HRD have cited in the past year.

All is not lost. As one prominent HR director puts it, engagement goes back to having a strong purpose. Although it is not solely HR’s responsibility to help employees “connect the dots”, HR can drive the campaign and ensure everyone from company leaders to managers play their part in re-engaging staffers.

Tackling engagement
“A challenge is that [sometimes] people tend to put themselves last, and think about the needs of their families, jobs and homes first,” said Lisa Tay, head of HR at Johnson and Johnson (J&J), Asia Pacific.

“We’ve had to encourage a shift in mindsets to get employees understanding the importance of health at all levels – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual – to tackle it holistically.”

At J&J, health and well-being is a core part of employee engagement, which is why CEO Alex Gorsky made a commitment to having the world’s healthiest workforce by 2020.

Tay told us J&J’s APAC headquarters’ office in Singapore is geared towards encouraging healthy lifestyles, with gym facilities, healthier options at their pantries as well as interconnected stairs to allow people to walk rather than take lifts between office floors.

“There is a visible presence of well-being which makes the healthier choice the easy choice for us,” she said. “It’s all about motivating people to take care of themselves and be their best selves.”

In line with the CEO’s vision is a new initiative in Asia Pacific called the Human Performance Institute (HPI). HPI opened its doors in Singapore in 2018 and is the first of its kind outside of the US. Tay said that the courses at HPI anchors J&J’s wellness approach as it is driven by purpose.

The problem with purpose
The tricky thing with helping employees discover their purpose is how personal it is. Employees may be resistant to sharing their purpose but as both Lowinn Kibbey, Global Head and Bobby Sheikh, APAC Business Unit Head at HPI shared with us, engaging in dialogue is a crucial part of it all.

“I think as a human being everyone has an innate desire to understand the ‘why’ more,” Sheikh said.

He continued that leaders need to be more forthright about the ‘why’ more, or the purpose behind what drives them, to encourage employees to discover their own purpose.

“You don’t have to share your deepest, darkest secret but having shared something about yourself, something personal, something about what drives you…sharing a little bit of that and encouraging your team to delve into it and to take actions is very important,” he said.

Sheikh frequently practises it himself. He shared that when he starts his team meetings, he encourages everyone to share their goals – personal or business. He follows up by asking, ‘why do we want to do them?’ He finds the practice “very powerful” when normalised into meetings and the everyday.

However, Kibbey cautioned never to confuse personal purpose with company purpose.

“A lot of times when employers talk about purpose, it can go in different directions,” he said. “But there’s a company purpose and then there’s your personal purpose. Another way to think about [personal] purpose is ‘what brings you joy in life?’

“It would be a very interesting discussion around company purpose versus personal purpose and how they work together.”

Kibbey shared that as HPI works with leaders and CEOs, one of the things they remind the execs is that it’s unhealthy when the company purpose becomes your personal purpose.

“You want to be aligned to the company purpose as a value in your life but you have to have your own personal purpose,” he said. “This is because when you don’t have that title anymore [at work], your purpose would not have disappeared.”

It’s thus pertinent to differentiate the two. Both are important, with Kibbey adding that helping employees understand their personal purpose is where you can start to drive overall well-being, energy and performance.

By having honest conversations with your staff, you can also build a sense of social connectedness, which allows individuals to “go deeper into themselves” as well as share and reflect a little bit more.

“Then they [are able to] get there and understand ‘this is what brings me joy’,” he said. “These are the moments where I’m using up my time and energy, but I’m actually living for that experience and feeling more energised and fulfilled.”

That’s when “the lightbulb goes off” and they realise their purpose, he said. From there, they can work on the different elements in their lives that can potentially be a barrier to them achieving greater success.

“[Then comes the realisation that] if I’m not sleeping enough; not mentally focused enough; or if I have this emotional story that’s wearing me down, then I’m not going to achieve this purpose,” he said.

“It all starts through self-dialogue and then group dialogue.”

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