Modern HR practice considers people managers to be at the forefront of the employee experience, with employee engagement stemming directly from an employee’s relationship with their manager. It is often said that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. Hence, the ability for organisations to foster an employee experience leading to loyalty, retention, and business success hinges on the relationship and connection between management and their employees.
Employee engagement is vital in any organisation to preserve the right talent needed to acquire, serve and retain business. However, there is a common misconception that this engagement is determined by financial remuneration and perks alone. Recent trends, supported by research conducted by Gallup, have shown a fault with this model, demonstrated when employees receive employment offers from elsewhere. Commonly, if they believe the other employer will value them more on a personal level, they will leave, even if it is for less financial reward. This suggests that employers are not focussing on areas that employees truly value. It is evident that employee engagement is no longer created by perks, rather is it created through a culture driven by trust and approachable and personable leaders.
Traditional hierarchical management structures can create blockages to engagement, whereby a lack of personal and approachable leaders breeds a fear-based culture. This can make employees feel as though they are treated as a skill set, rather than a person. Similarly, if employees do not feel connected to the outcomes of their work and the strategy of the organisation, they are unlikely to be engaged. This is where it is important that managers help employees to make the connection between their work and the organisation’s mission.
In a time where many of our work functions are becoming increasingly automated, managers are thought to have more time than ever to interact with their employees. The key is to use this time for more meaningful interactions. The transition from traditional management styles, to one focused on stronger relationships and people development, may pose a challenge for managers unequipped to deal with changing expectations. However, it is vital that management adapt to avoid negative effects on employee engagement.
As our workplaces offer increasingly flexible work options, the opportunity to maintain face-to-face communication is also threatened. This will challenge organisations to consider how their workspaces and work practices can be better designed to facilitate interpersonal relationships between managers and employees. However, in order for managers to fulfil these new expectations it is critical that managers are equipped with the skills necessary to be good relationship builders and behavioural leaders. Historically, management development has focused on “hard” skills. Yet, with ongoing advancements in technology and automation, organisations should renew their focus to developmental opportunities for managers.
Organisations that are committed to building deeper personal connections amongst employees are likely to see the benefits of increased commitment, job satisfaction, and productivity.