As promised last week, I wanted to expand further on my top tweets from the SHRM conference. If you have attended a conference that boasts over 15,000 attendees and hundreds of speakers you know how hard it can be to harness the vast amount of information that comes out of the event. This is why I love Twitter. My eye was constantly on the stream marking as favorite those tweets that really stood out to me. The statement above is one that I think many may overlook at first, but then stop, read it again and think a little harder.
Things that make you go hmmm.
While I have no stats to prove it, I would almost guarantee that the vast majority of companies do not know their employees all that well. Sure, individual teams know one another and employees who work closely together talk about their lives outside of work, but I don’t think that is what this tweet is talking about.
In the past few years big data has become the buzz word of buzz words. Companies have clamored to find out all they can about their customers. They cross reference, dig deeper and engage on levels they never have before. The better they know their customer, the more they can sell to them.
I would say that next to big data, the idea of employee engagement has also been tossed around enough in recent years to warrant it’s own drinking game. Companies want happy, engaged employees, whatever that means. They give unlimited vacation, serve beer in the break room on Friday afternoons and spare no expense on the cake that celebrates birthdays once a month. They throw whatever they can afford at employees in hopes that it will keep them happy, engaged, and of course, productive.
And it doesn’t work.
The reason it fails so miserably may seem like a mystery but the reality is it is rather simple. Employees did not want those things. Companies provide what they think employees want without ever really knowing their employees. You simply can not provide programs, benefits and perks that will keep individuals engaged and productive if you do not know what they are.
Let me give you an example.
In my call center days the company I worked for offered a fairly generous tuition reimbursement program. It wasn’t on the level of Starbucks, but for the size of the company and the cities we were located, it could be beneficial to someone who used it. Year after year as we evaluated our benefit programs we noticed that very few people actually took advantage. Why? Our general population wasn’t interested in going to school. They were living paycheck to paycheck, often working two jobs and while conventional wisdom may dictate that going to school could improve their future trajectory they just weren’t interested. They needed help with gas, daycare and general day to day living. The more of that we provided, the more they felt like we truly cared about their lives outside of work.
And isn’t truly caring about employees an essential part of employee engagement?
So what if companies took the same approach to knowing their employees as they do their customers. What if the highest level of leadership applied big data principles to find out what truly interested their employees on both a general and granular level? What if human resource programs (employee engagement programs) were created around that information instead of guesses or best practices?
When I start talking about this type of thing with clients I usually see the CEO or CFO’s eyes glaze over as they assume I’m going to start asking for a bigger budget. Here’s the thing. Companies are spending money on benefit programs with low adoption rates. They are pouring money into things that employees are not taking utilizing. If companies wanted to start to get to know their employees on a greater level, they should start by taking inventory on what they currently offer and what is being underutilized. Get rid of that thing and budget dollars may just open up.[Tweet “If you knew employees the way you know customers would it change the way you run the business?”]
I have heard employees say something as simple as having no vegetarian options at the company lunch has changed the way they feel about their employer. If the company doesn’t care enough to know how they eat, what else do they not care about? There is something endearing about another person knowing something about your and acting accordingly. How much more endearing does it get when that is the company you give much of your life to?