engaged employees

7 Actionable Tips: How HR Programs Can Foster Employee Engagement During Tough Times

When your company is undergoing change, you already face plenty of challenges. One issue that might not make it to your short list of priorities is actually crucial: the need to maintain employee engagement. Organizational change efforts have a startling failure rate of 70 percent, and one major reason for this failure is that executives don’t do what it takes to get buy-in from their employees. An Aon Hewitt study found that the number of actively disengaged employees rose by more than 50 percent during situations where job duties were impacted by their company being acquired. Their research found that even employees whose jobs were not affected by an acquisition were 25 percent more likely to be actively disengaged.

Company morale takes a hit when restructuring occurs, and it’s important to realize that this is wholly natural: Employee happiness and well-being depends on paychecks continuing. If workers sense that the future of the company is up in the air, their survival instincts mean that they will start looking farther afield to find a more secure livelihood. Below are seven actionable tips for strengthening your employee retention during periods of organizational change.

1.   Strengthen Employee Engagement Ahead of Time

Any changes you make will meet with greater success if you already have a strong work culture of employee engagement in place. Winning trust is much harder if you wait to address employee alignment until you’re already in the midst of restructuring, especially if you’re reducing your workforce at the same time. The Ritz-Carlton has a Service Value that states, “I am involved in the planning of the work that affects me.” Their leadership center blog notes that inviting employees to participate in focus groups before initiating an unpopular change resulted in much better acceptance of the ultimate decision.

2.   Buy-In Starts at the Top

To set the scene for launching organizational change, your leadership has to be 100 percent on board. They will have the responsibility for being role models and for entering positively into a conversation with employees about how the upcoming changes will improve the company’s future. Excellent leadership means that supervisors maintain a personal knowledge of their team members and are able to anticipate the unique concerns that each individual may experience in response to pending changes. Also, there is no substitute for leading by example; if your managers demonstrate that they are also affected by the change, it will increase employee success at weathering the same changes.

3.   Name a Core Team of Change Agents

Naming a core team of people from various levels of the company who will take personal responsibility for executing the change is also a great way to propagate full communication and buy-in throughout the organization. HR best practices suggest tapping those workers who are most closely aligned with the company’s mission and values.

4.   Integrate Employee Feedback Into Your Company Culture

Using HR technology to create employee feedback is an effective method for building the foundation of trust that you’ll rely on during times of change. When employees can see that their feedback is desired and that you act on the basis of what they tell you, they’ll trust that their voices will continue to be heard as changes occur. While surveys won’t be your only channel for listening to feedback, the fact that you regularly circulate them — and then take action on them — will bolster employee retention. Survey results can also serve as a useful benchmark for the milestones of your restructuring strategy.

5.   Communicate Clearly and Consistently

Research by Korn Ferry Hay Group (KFHG) notes that during times of leadership changes, the number of workers who feel that they were informed about their organization’s financial performance typically fall by 13 percent. This type of drop suggests a lack of transparency on the part of managers. Telling a compelling “change story” can have the effect of keeping workers involved during the sensitive time following the initial restructuring. An effective communication channel can help your organization avoid becoming one of the negative statistics: Aon Hewitt’s research found that in a typical company, the percentage of highly engaged employees did not rise back up to baseline levels for two to three years following a merger or acquisition.

6.   Support Your Managers

Managers have to adjust to changes too, but they are simultaneously on the front lines of supporting their direct reports through what may be difficult times. It’s important to remember that great leaders become invested in employee motivation; if a supervisor is put in the position of having to let some workers go, it’s essential to also give that manager the tools to provide remaining employees with incentives through a reward and recognition program.

7.   Keep Motivation High With Rewards and Recognition

There are many reasons why it’s important to have an HR program in place for giving employee rewards. Receiving a gift card can convey employee appreciation during difficult times, and rewards and recognition help workers feel that managers are paying attention to performance. In Achievers’ 2018 report, 60% of companies said they plan to increase their investment in social recognition technology. Furthermore, companies identified recognition as having the greatest impact on employee engagement. Providing frequent recognition and rewards is a way of letting workers know that you appreciate them.

Change is inevitable in today’s business world, so it’s a question of “when” rather than “if.” Best practices for change management stipulate that you need to keep employees engaged throughout periods of intense change if you’re going to stay agile and productive over the life of the company.

Learn more about how you can boost employee engagement with HR programs by downloading our report, “Building a Business Case for Social Recognition.”

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