Enhance employer-employee relationships with a new social contract

Carol Kinsey Goman: Revolutionize employer-employee relationships for successIt’s time for a new social contract between employers and employees.

Chances are, if your organization is like many others described in numerous studies, half of your workers are doing just enough to get by, 25 percent are totally turned off, and only one quarter are usefully engaged in building your organization and helping to meet your goals.

That disturbing picture of most organizations’ employees is especially troubling if you are striving to “do more with less” because engagement is directly linked to employee performance and productivity.

An engaged workforce displays three simple characteristics:

They stay. Retention, affiliation, internal job moves, and employee satisfaction are all strong indicators of engagement. Highly engaged employees have a strong desire to be part of the organization.

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They recommend. Engaged workers are advocates for the organization. They speak highly of it, refer others for job openings, and refer potential customers.

They perform. Engagement means that people are willing to contribute their discretionary effort – going “above and beyond the call of duty.” Engaged employees do the extra little things that may not be required.

But you can’t build this kind of engagement with outdated management philosophies. Conventional management was founded in the industrial era when human capital existed within the hands of employees. Productivity was measured by how much work got done with those hands.

However, the new reality is challenging the effectiveness of traditional approaches, where “command-and-control power” is the foundation of the employer-employee relationship. Human capital today doesn’t lie in the hands but between the ears and behind the eyes of the people you hire. Even the most industrial roles are demanding smart people to enable smart technology. You can’t command smart people to improve their performance, and you can’t control their willingness to collaborate and innovate. But you can create mutually beneficial relationships that are the bedrock of today’s employee engagement.

Here’s how to get started:

Measure existing engagement. Make use of the many tools available to measure employee perceptions, attitudes, and opinions that pertain to organizations’ ability to attract, retain, and gain the commitment of talented employees. The one I developed provides the means to analyze and diagnose which elements are most critical to the engagement and retention of your workforce and to indicate areas in which your organization is most vulnerable.

But you don’t have to bring in an outside consultant. Email a questionnaire to the entire workforce (or post it online) and gather employees’ opinions about their workplace relationships: their faith in senior leadership, interactions with direct supervisors, and friendships with co-workers. Ask if they think they are appreciated, included in decisions, have professional growth opportunities, are communicated with candidly, treated fairly, and if they see a direct link between the job they do and the success of the organization. Find out if they feel that anyone at work cares about them as a person.

Create a forum for discussion and interaction. Include the entire company or use a task force comprised of a cross-section of management and employees. The forum’s purpose is to explore the kinds of employer-employee relationships that are evolving in today’s leading organizations. Use the information you gathered from the questionnaires to stimulate a candid discussion.

Let people know that the new social contract is developed based on realistic expectations on both sides. It is a path that reflects the new reality for business and society in a global market, as it attempts to align the organization’s interests with those of its employees to share both the risks and rewards of doing business. Balancing the employee-employer compact is not a matter of adding more items to one side of the balance sheet or eliminating some from the other side. Increasingly, it is a matter of finding items that are of value to both the employer and the employee.

No easy task – but there is a reward for all this effort.

As Dave Brown, former CEO of Owens Corning, once said: “We are absolutely convinced there’s a competitive edge to be gained by engaging our people. We’ve seen it pay off … in measurable improvements in costs and productivity.”

But high engagement is not just visible on the bottom line. As one manager at Owens Corning also said, “We’re seeing a lot more smiling faces.”

Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, is an executive coach, consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is also the author of STAND OUT: How to Build Your Leadership Presence.

For interview requests, click here.


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