What does the winning recipe for employee recognition look like?

Amid a turbulent post-Covid labour market, businesses need to put even more effort into ensuring workers are engaged and productive, explain Stephanie Kelly and Jill Christensen

With wage growth lagging behind the rising cost of living combined with an incredibly challenging job landscape, HR teams are under a lot of pressure to find the winning recipe for a successful, engaged workforce. And it’s no easy road. New research from Slack has found that one in three workers want to change jobs because bosses want them to return to office, and it’s clear taking flexibility away from employees will be detrimental to many businesses’ success.

It has therefore never been more important to ensure strategies are in place that will maintain engagement, productivity and a positive culture. HR leaders need effective solutions to best navigate this HR minefield.

Encourage employee engagement

Jill mentions that “strong core values and a management team that seeks the opinions of employees” sets HR teams on the best path to maintaining engagement. However, the issue is this is an incredibly hard blend to get right. "Giving people the responsibility and freedom to do work they are proud of requires leadership to loosen their firm hand on the tiller”, she says. It comes down to autonomy, giving employees a say over where and when and how they work; something that is central to performance, engagement and productivity.  

For this to happen successfully, HR teams and the C-Suite need to fully align themselves, ensuring they are on the same page when talking with the workforce. However, all too often HR departments find themselves bogged down with the burden of operational and administrative tasks, to the extent that any constructive dialogue with the C-suite becomes difficult. This massively impacts HR’s capabilities to maintain employee engagement, productivity and a positive culture, as they simply do not have the time to focus on the emotional side of their role.

Harness technology

Technology plays a crucial role in giving HR teams much-needed headspace. Harnessing certain tools removes time-consuming administrative tasks from to-do lists – such as managing holiday requests, sick leave and payroll – so HR professionals can continue to make the strategic contribution they have been making since Covid-19 started. Working with leadership in the boardroom, ripping up the playbook and rewriting policies.

This extra time also means HR is free to focus on the effective side of their core responsibilities, playing a crucial role in supporting the C-suite to adopt a more open, transparent culture where opinions are not only invited but acted upon too. They need to help leadership communicate with the front line in terms of the basic direction of the company and on the wider issues of its ethos, values and mission. It doesn’t end there though. The conversation needs to go both ways too and it’s HR’s job to invite employees to speak up, making sure their thoughts are heard. “I regularly speak with employees who say they are disengaged because leaders don’t always listen, respect their opinions or solicit feedback. The saddest aspect of this scenario? It simply doesn’t have to be this way,” explains Jill.

She advises HR and leaders to “communicate with your employees to find out what they want from your workplace. If you make a decision without their input, employees will disengage, as people want a say in important decisions that impact them. One way of achieving this is to conduct a survey to gauge what people are thinking and to the extent possible, execute on what you hear. This approach will pay dividends for your company for years to come, as you figure out your new world of work. It’s not rocket science. Treat people with respect and they will give you their all.”

This can only happen if HR teams have the time they need to look after the human side of the business. And this all comes down to not only having the right tools in place, but also ensuring there’s an effective two-way conversation between leadership and the front line. 

“The difference between a good two-way dialogue and an excellent one is subtle. While good leadership may say the right things about listening, appreciation, development and business models, a great boss actually does it. The best companies are considerate about what their value proposition is. They communicate it, and they are true to their word.” Jill concludes, and I couldn’t agree with her more.

Stephanie Kelly is chief people officer at IRIS Software Group and Jill Christensen is an influencer and keynote speaker