New Years Resolutions for Employee Relations Practitioners and their Leaders

December 30, 2009

It is always best to use the year end to take stock of things that have gone well, and things that need to be improved in the new year.  In this spirit, I offer my clients and their leaders some resolutions to consider:

1.  Take your  unhappy employees as  seriously as you take your “good” employees.

Thinking of unhappy employees as “whiners” or “malcontents” is not only counterproductive, but it’s also a sign to other employees that you don’t take their concerns seriously.  Unhappy employees make other employees unhappy.  They drag down productivity and build alliances with other employees, creating long-term irritation in the climate of the organization.  Devote some resources to an unhappy employee.  Is the cause of their concerns legitimate?  Are they having trouble at home that could be helped through some time off or through your EAP?  Do they need some coaching on how to deal with a situation or an individual?  Even more importantly, an employee who is in a a state of protracted unhappiness  is likely to perceive, (sometimes accurately) that they are being “targeted.” By focusing your early interventions with unhappy employees on making things better, you reduce the probability the employee will become a complainant requiring far more attention later on.

2. Communicate.  As often as you can and as much as you can.

Organizations without information are vacuums.  When people have no information, they fill in the blanks, often with the worst possible spin.  An employee who has “disappeared” is presumed to have been fired unfairly.  A series of executive meetings can be perceived as the first steps in planning layoffs.  A seemingly innocuous new policy is viewed as something being “done to” employees.  Fill the vacuum with information that is good, honest, and lets employees know what to expect.  From the top of the house, it is often easy to forget that communication is the staff of life for employee engagement.  Make sure it cascades all the way to the ears of your team. Let them know what will be happening, why it is happening, how it will affect them, and what type of input they can provide, if any.  Make sure there is someplace they can ask questions, and make sure they will get consistent answers.

3. Investigate with Care

Conducting investigations requires specialized training. It also requires neutrality, independence and time.  Doing an internal investigation that has all of these qualities is not always easy, or even possible.  A poor investigation will create more problems than it can possibly solve.  Make sure you are putting the correct resources in place before the moment comes to investigate employee misconduct.  Good investigations show employees you take them seriously, that you intend to be fair and equitable and that all parties will have a chance to speak when accusations are leveled.  These are powerful cultural messages that can’t be left to chance.

4.  Take the old adage seriously

Your people are your most important asset.  Not the folks in the executive suite, although they may be your “top talent,” but the people who leave their homes and families each day to come to your place of employment; the ones who take pride in their work and your product or service; who put in extra time, take extra care, treat one another as though they matter, and share a small piece of psychological ownership that makes you competitive.  Thank them.  Reward them.  Be honest with them.  Listen to them.  They are, each one of them, the heart of your organization.

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