An employee revolution is underway and the ruling class in many organizations is oblivious. It’s not what you might think, with workers organizing into unions to demand more from management. It’s worse than that. Workers are communicating with each other and realizing there are opportunities for something better somewhere else. These workers are networking with managers and employees at other companies and being stolen away, taking their company knowledge, their experience and their training with them.
It doesn’t have to be this way. But too many organizations are ignoring one of their greatest investments and resources because they simply refuse to engage with their employees. I wrote about a recent survey by the International Association of Business Communicators that said e-mail and intranets are still the top two methods for engaging employees. That’s not shocking or surprising, but it is disappointing. The old-style, one-way broadcasting of information will not suffice anymore.
People are now connected and engaged with so many others in so many ways. They have seen and felt the power of social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter. They have witnessed the importance of companies being transparent and communicating with customers. And they simply will not accept that as the norm in their personal lives and then return to a workplace in which only the top 2 percent of the leaders know what is happening or why it matters.
When I asked on Twitter about what technology people wanted their employers to use for communicating, I received a very frank answer from someone who is close to quitting their job, if they haven’t already by now. In a private message to me they wrote:
The technologies that I wish more employers would use in communication are: compassion, honesty, directness.
If you think that Twitter friend and I are just venting, think again. According to the 2010 Deloitte LLP Ethics & Workplace Survey:
One-third of employed Americans plan to look for a new job when the economy gets better. Of this group of respondents, 48 percent cite a loss of trust in their employer and 46 percent say that a lack of transparent communication from their company’s leadership are their reasons for looking for new employment at the end of the recession.
People are fed up with employers investing in technology, in bricks and mortar and in new products but choosing to simply take their employees for granted.
I had a great conversation with Arik Hanson from Minneapolis recently. Arik used to work for a large employer but now runs his own public relations business. When I mentioned that he’d escaped the 9 to 5 world, he jokingly replied, “Yeah, I traded it for the 24/7 world.” While that’s true, his next statement explains why he did it. “But I’m happy.”
Arik and I agree on a lot of things, one of them being that the “need to know basis” management style is ridiculously outdated and seriously impairing employee retention.
I think we should expect more of our leaders. They ask employees to change all the time. Why can’ they change their leadership styles? Too many organizations hide behind regulations and ‘big organizations are slow to change.’
Arik is absolutely right. I recently read “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh, the founder and CEO of Zappos. It’s a great read although I’ll warn you that, depending on your situation, it can be simultaneously inspiring and depressing. Hsieh spends a lot of time talking about the culture at Zappos and how the employees are part of a family. That means more than most bosses realize. I also recently heard an interview with Lt. Col. Gregory Reeder, director of the U.S. Marine Corps’ internal communications, about how the Marines are coping with social media. One of the most interesting things he said was when he talked about how young men going through Boot Camp and becoming Marines also are becoming part of a family because of their shared experiences. Col. Reeder noted that, like with any family, you can complain about the family, or you can talk bad about the family business, but only within the family. You don’t talk that way with outsiders. That’s why, he said, the Marine Corps isn’t as worried about what Marines might say on social networking channels as many companies are about their employees.
I’ve counseled many people on the use of social media by companies and I often have to remind them that if a company is worried about what its employees are going to say on social media outlets, that is not a social media problem. They have a much broader and deeper issue facing them. Arik noted that in the IABC survey, “Publishing a formal list of values and using exit interviews with managers are the top practices of survey respondents to sustain an engaging work culture.” We both laughed about that, but not because it was funny. We laughed because it is so sad. As Arik said:
Publishing a list of values as a way to engage employees is just window dressing. Just posting that somewhere on the intranet is not nearly enough. You need to show that in action.
And relying on exit interviews to find out how your company is doing on engaging with employees? What kind of backwards management tool is that? If you wait for an exit interview to engage with an employee, you are going to end up with a line of people waiting to do exit interviews.
Employers need to get a grip on this soon. As the reach of social networking continues to grow, employees are going to be even less inclined to put up with the typical morale killers at work. It’s always been a fact that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. The difference now is that social media and professional networking are giving a lot of people a boost to see over that fence more than ever. Arik summed it up by saying: “What motivates people now is much different from what motivated people 20 years ago.” I agree, but I’d be inclined to suggest that what motivates people today is different from what it was two years ago. And in the next year or two, if companies don’t start engaging with their employees, those employees will be engaging with someone else.
(Photos courtesy of Arik Hanson and 4nitsirk’s Flickr photostream.)
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Great article. I took another job about 5 months ago, and am SO glad. At my old position, pretty much in line with what you write here, our boss often bought the latest gadgets for the company or himself. However, he maintained a condescending attitude and talked a LOT (the running joke was that you couldn’t get out of his office under an hour) but rarely listened. This was always quite frustrating. Outside of work, he was a good person, but unfortunately he wasn’t a very good boss.
Thanks for commenting Dee. It is unfortunate when you find a boss who is a good person and perhaps means well but just isn’t qualified to be a manager. Arik Hanson and I discussed how often people are put into management positions and expected to be both a coach and a player, and how unfair it is to them. Unfortunately, that often translates into problems for their subordinates and, eventually, an exodus of good employees.
I personally think that a company expecting or encouraging their employees to be ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ on social media is mis-directed. Employees see their social media circle as their true friends or their trusted group — where they don’t have to be ‘on’ all the time like they have to be at the office. Sure, they may invite some of their co-workers, but for the most part, people enjoy having their ‘work’ live and their ‘home’ life — something that Social Media can’t seperate.
I agree with you that two-way communications are best, and should be used in addition to the company newsletter, intranet or email. I personally appreciate being ‘in the know’ as soon as I possibally can. Often times I’m making decisions as to where the organization will be going with technology and knowing what direction they are planning is very important.
Additionally, one thing that I have found is very effective is to have weekly, biweekly, monthly or even quarterly sit-downs with your supervisor to be able to catch up on what is happening or needs to happen. By constant communications, face-to-face, people are able to get on the same page and be more reliable workers. Consequently the worker feels they have more power and say when they can talk to their boss directly. The more frequent the meetings — the more casual it will become.
In addition to the sit-downs with the supervisor, it is also very effective to have an outside sounding board. At a Fortune 50 company I worked for, they have an HR group that went around and did interviews with the employees. All the comments were anonymous but were quickly shared with direct supervisors, managers and all levels. Some people used them as bitching sessions (and didn’t get much results), but those of us who used them for constructive criticism or positive comments often got our word out, and surprisingly, people listened. Although I was a peon at the company, my voice was heard and it often changed things for the better.
I appreciate the comment Nick. You were very lucky to have worked for a large company that valued the input of its employees!
I agree with you that employees and their employers becoming friends and followers on social networks isn’t really a goal that anyone should have. There’s nothing wrong with separating personal and professional lives. My point was that we are so used to open, transparent and constant communication in our personal lives now that it just makes the silence at work even more deafening.
Thank you so much for this article. I do agree strongly that open, direct and respectful communication leads a significant role in people’s commitment to an employer. It is not about putting out loads of information through all channels, it is about asking, listening and engaging – on both sides.
Will definitely use your article for my work.
Thanks again and cheers,
Thanks for the comment Gaby. I’ve seen too many employers think an information dump takes care of their obligation to engaging with employees. Engagement is a two-way street, though, so employers have to be willing to listen to feedback as well!
Ari, again your writing strikes a chord. The benefit of this to me is that at least I don’t feel alone in that my employer, for whom I’ve invested fourteen of the most productive years of my life, doesn’t see this as a two-way street, but rather that I should be happy just to have a job.
Today, i keep this job for health insurance for my wife, for which I pay over $720.00 monthly. We haven’t had raises in three years, and the only good news was they ended furloughs this year. All the while the owners are making money, watching their tidy profits, and our management thinks that “Marketing Director” means “The guy who makes pretty brochures and knows some html”. Our sales strategy consists of answering the phone when it rings, and my advertising and marketing budget was just turned into “ask when you need to spend money, so we can say no.”
Ben, it’s amazing to hear about people putting more than 2 years into a job, let alone 14 as you have. It’s an unfortunate time right now, economically, when employers can still play the “be glad you have a job” trump card. That time will not last, however, and when their employees flee to greener pastures perhaps then the employers will get a clue. Thanks for taking the time to comment!
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I am a Search Firm recruiter and frequent speaker on HR and recruiting topics. If you take a look at the conference agenda for any event the past 18 months you will rarely (maybe not at all) see a session on employee retention.
Recruiting topics are all the rage (which is good for me) but where do these companies think their new hires are going to come from? Well other companies of course.
Funny thing is they do not think the company across town is looking at them the same way.
I guess that too will be good for me and my colleagues 🙂
Great insight Paul; thanks for posting your comment. It is too bad employers don’t realize the reason they need to recruit so much is because they can’t retain the talent they have! Retention is so much cheaper, more efficient and more effective in the long run, so you would think business leaders would understand the concept.
I’m posting anonymously because I work for a company that is highly regarded in the area… However, me and several of my immediate co-workers could have been the person to tweet “The technologies that I wish more employers would use in communication are: compassion, honesty, directness.”
It saddens me that I love my company but at the same time am so very unhappy with my work environment/situation. I do so much for the company, tell so many about our products and the great company culture, I don’t hesitate to suggest that friends apply for positions here, yet I am struggling to make myself get up to go into my office each day.
I feel under-valued, under-paid, under-appreciated in my job. While there are many here at the company that *do* show that they value me and my contributions, unfortunately those people are not my direct managers or the executives, or those in charge of making changes. I’m sure if asked, they’d all agree that I do bring great value to the company and appreciate my work, but those words don’t seem to be enough – especially if they only come when asked or at times when it would be expected to offer them.
We’ve lost some very good employees, recently, to these same kinds of feelings, both in my department and others. Who knows, I might be the next one giving my feedback in an exit interview…
Thanks for the post Anonymous. I don’t usually like comments without names, but yours is a special case and, besides, I know who you are. 🙂
I posted to Twitter yesterday that it is depressing to hear from so many people about how I nailed their workplace exactly with my post. Someone replied that it also should be comforting to know so many people are in the same situation. I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective. I think I’ll stick with depressing for a while though. LOL
Great article and so true! I LOVE my job and enjoy going to work almost every day (some gorgeous summer days – I would rather be at the beach). I believe my company listens and respects all employees, and this fosters respect and a connection with the company from employees. I feel my coworkers are like family members and not just my peers. No one or no job is perfect; but I feel very fortunate that I work for a company that “gets it!” I have been lucky enough to have worked there for 25 years so far and hopefully will be there until I retire.
Thanks for the comment Debbie. You are truly lucky to love your job and to have a company that seems to understand the value of its employees as members of a family instead of just a commodity to be traded. Twenty-five years is quite an accomplishment, especially these days. Congratulations!
Everyone recognizes how vital trust is to human relationships – both personal and commercial. Without trust our personal relationships are placed under pressure and can break down. It is exactly the same in the commercial sphere. Intuitively we know that if trust in our product, organization or “brand” declines, we will see a decline in our corporate performance. The obverse is also true – if we build trust, our corporate performance improves – dramatically.
Download our latest whitepaper on developing Trust here:
Thanks for the comment Ralph. Trust is a big part of the equation. If employers don’t trust their employees and, therefore, keep them in the dark, bad things will eventually happen. If employees are trusted with information on the what and why of business decisions, they are more likely to buy into the company initiatives and become part of the solution instead of just one more “problem” for management to deal with.
Great article. I’m doing some work in Egypt now where trust and respect have been overtaken by fear and loathing. The new management team are up for change and so we’re raising the amount of engagement, lots of facilitated listening groups led by the President, discussion groups with monthly feedback to the leadership team, an ideas board, a rumour busting channel As well as the normal email, intranet, newsletter, poster activity. It’s all being launched at the Iftar townhall event next week focused on belonging to the ‘work family’ with some fun recognition activity. The great thing is none of it costs very much with the exception of management time and commitment and good support staff who are prepared to make the difference. Will keep you posted on how it goes.
Sounds like an amazing time to be there and be involved in a transformation. Definitely keep us posted! Thanks for chiming in to this discussion.
Seems to be a real post! yes every boss has this experience . your employee move to other company with all the knowledge you gave them. So I hope to increase there pay every 6 months and make a bond that they will not leave the company for n number of years..this what i do..thanks for sharing your thoughts !!
Ari, I liked your article a lot because it talks about the link between social media, where trust levels are high and the corporate workplace, where they are often not. It will be interesting to see where things go as the workplace adopts social media. Executives are catching on that you can’t ignore social media, but I think their fears – of employees saying negative things about the company, lack of control – is going to be far outweighed by the change in expected levels of trust and respect engendered by social media. Frankly, it’s about time. Great work!
Thanks for the comment Kate. It seems to me that if we could increase the trust level in the corporate setting, both from the top down and the bottom up, that the corporation as a whole would improve and, therefore, its leaders and employees would all be better off. Isn’t that what we should want — success for all? United we stand, divided we fall…
“People are fed up with employers investing in technology, in bricks and mortar and in new products but choosing to simply take their employees for granted.” You hit the nail on the head on this. I can’t say enough good things about your insight on these issues. Hopefully more employers will take into account the wonderful ideas you mention.
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I’ll post anonymously too… I know someone that works as a nurse for a hospital that is simultaneously building a multi-million dollar state of the art facility and trying to reach something called “magnet status” where all the nurses are happy campers. Those are both great goals and good things.
At the same time, in order to reduce payroll they decide on a day to day basis what the nursing staffing levels are supposed to be, despite having made schedules over a month in advance. If they think their census is too low, the scheduled “surplus” nurses can either burn up vacation time and take the day off, or be called off in 4 hour blocks. There is no pay for being available in this forced on call. In the past, if nurses were not needed, they could be put on call, then called in at 1.5x their hourly rate. That practice has ended.
In the mean time, they have a nurse on staff (in the executive group) whose primary job duty is arranging golf trips, museum tours, special dinners and other stuff for Doctors. Those benefits to Doctors were well hidden until recently and are largely unknown. I’ve encouraged my friend to consider unionizing, though, in general I’m opposed to them.