Last Monday I was part of a panel at an event titled “Keeping HR Human in a Digital World”. It was a great panel with diverse viewpoints and experience, and a lively audience that stuck around to ask questions and chat. A question that wasn’t asked, but maybe should have been is: “What do we […]
Working remotely can be a dream come true for some employees. No commute means more money, more time and less stress. Alone at home, remote workers can be less distracted and more productive. They may also have greater autonomy — and may be able to focus on actual work rather than banal office politics.
Gallup’s research and experience back this up, as those who work remotely some of the timeare more engaged and report a more positive workplace experience than those who never work remotely.
However, one group of remote workers is not experiencing this boost in engagement: those who work remotely 100% of the time.
Although fully remote workers are more likely to say they have the opportunity to do what they do best, these employees have lost connections to their organizations that could increase their performance. According to Gallup’s research, employees who work remotely 100% of the time are the least engaged of all remote workers. This directly affects an organization’s retention, productivity, customer experience and, ultimately, profitability.
Gallup research suggests there are three areas in which managers struggle to engage their remote workers:
- You don’t recognize or praise good work.
Compared with employees who work remotely 60% to 80% of the time but spend some time in the office, fully remote workers are 29% less likely to strongly agree that they have reviewed their greatest successes with their manager in the past six months.
When an employee is in the same office as their manager, it’s easier for the manager to see and recognize that team member’s successes. When they are in different locations, however, there are few natural moments to see, let alone praise, good work.
What’s more, some employees don’t always share their successes since it can be seen as bragging about themselves. Sometimes managers simply aren’t aware of what is occurring and what employees are most proud of.
Most managers we work with don’t want to take up too much of their or the employee’s time, so they keep their “quick connects” focused on what needs to get accomplished. But this simply isn’t enough to keep an employee engaged and performing.
To increase the frequency of these important conversations, both the manager and the employee need to be more intentional about connecting and sharing. Managers need to make use of existing touchpoints to ask about the employee’s most recent successes. We’ve seen managers do this in team meetings where teammates recognize each other (even over the phone), in weekly emails where team members share their or others’ successes, or during scheduled check-ins.
The employee also needs to share successes with their manager. This is more realistic when the manager invites and sets an expectation that the employee share. It may feel odd at first, but our experience shows that employees value the opportunity to share those successes.
- You don’t talk to remote workers about career goals and personal growth.
Compared with employees who spend at least some time in the office, fully remote workers are 30% less likely to strongly agree that they have talked with their manager about steps to reach their goals in the past six months.
Regardless of remote status, “career growth opportunities” is the No. 1 reason employees leave their company. If companies want to retain their remote workforce, they must take action to quickly correct this mistake.
One tactic companies can use is to rethink their internal job postings. The problem with most job postings is that they only reveal jobs that need to be filled. Employees don’t need to only see what is available; they need to see what is possible to achieve within the company. Being in an office can more naturally expose workers to people in their organization performing different functions or holding different positions. These natural exchanges and visual cues can spark feelings of hope and growth as employees envision their future with the company.
In contrast, remote workers are less likely to find those same organic exchanges. For this reason, companies need to consider redesigning their internal career sites to include more than available positions. They should also spotlight people in their current roles in an effort to bring those roles more fully to life.
Some managers avoid career-advancement conversations with employees because they assume that there may not be as many opportunities for fully remote employees. But growth doesn’t have to mean a typical promotion; it can also mean expanded responsibilities and more challenging assignments. When managers “onboard” employees to their teams, they should ask about career and growth goals and serve as a resource to help employees achieve these goals. Then, in formal progress reviews, career and growth goals should be a mandatory topic on the agenda.
The struggle to retain talent is a challenge regardless of remote status: 91% of employees change companies when they change jobs. The dynamic of remote working only exacerbates this problem.
- You don’t provide opportunities to connect with coworkers.
Our research shows that the optimal amount of time to work remotely each week is three to four days. Spending all of your time at the office or all of your time away leads to the lowest employee engagement.
Human beings need connection — not only to their coworkers, but also to the organization. Fully remote workers do not get that opportunity to connect, which can make them feel isolated and disconnected. While it is often impractical to bring remote workers into the office with any frequency, organizations and managers need to find ways to connect these employees to their teams and the company.
Managers are increasingly using technology to create these connections across different locations. Many of our best clients use internally designed social media intranet sites or collaboration platforms like Yammer or Chatter to virtually bring their teams together.
If only a few team members are remote, some managers require every worker to video conference in so everyone feels like they’re part of the same conversation. The key here is that managers and leaders promote video conferencing as a viable and important alternative to face-to-face meetings and take them as seriously as the latter. People on video or Skype shouldn’t be made to feel like outliers.
At the organizational level, companies are also taking advantage of opportunities to welcome employees into their culture. When possible, companies should conduct onboarding training at the “home base” and include onboarding activities that allow employees to meet some of their coworkers in person. Bringing in these employees for recognition ceremonies, formal training or conferences is another way that some organizations help remote workers connect. These in-person touches are important.
Remote Workers Have Basic Human Needs Too
No matter how much the workplace changes, one thing remains the same: Every employee has human needs that their company must meet. And the needs of remote workers have great implications for companies today, as 43% of U.S. employees now say they work remotely in some capacity.
Working remotely can quite literally hide the signs of burnout, unhappiness and despondency in employees. But that doesn’t mean they are doomed to a future of unfulfilling work. Intentional and thoughtful management, with a focus on a few key needs, can make all the difference.
- An employee engagement program needs to be a manager education and development initiative, not a measurement initiative — but many are really just the latter. An annual survey by itself does not help anyone. The survey should be just an audit of whether things are getting better. But the program should be all about providing managers with learning and tools to increase engagement within their teams, week in and week out — through ongoing conversations between managers and their employees.
Many companies simply conduct an annual survey and more or less tell managers to “get better,” but they don’t sufficiently follow up. This has never worked and will never work. It’s not what our most successful clients do.
Any company with an “engagement program” should step back and look at what that program actually entails. If the program is all about arming managers with learning and tools to better engage their people every day, then it’s on the right track. If it is merely an annual survey and reporting exercise, the organization should close it down, regroup and start over.
- Companies are not nearly selective enough about whom they name as their managers, at every level. Most people become managers either because they were top individual performers or because they’ve been around the company a long time. Neither of those two things has ever shown a strong relationship to being a good manager. In fact, Gallup research has found that only 10% of human beings are naturally wired to be great managers — and some others, while not naturally gifted, are teachable. But companies choose candidates with the right talent for the job only 18% of the time.
While great manager education and development can help almost anyone be a better manager, it works a lot better if you invest heavily in people who are already wired to be great in the role. There are scientific ways to accomplish this: psychological assessments, better interviewing questions by hiring managers, etc. Companies need to use this science.
Earlier this year, online craft marketplace Etsy came under public scrutiny after new investors balked at the long list of lavish perks offered at its Brooklyn headquarters.
Along with a community loom and crafting classes, the company had also renovated its office for $40 million, which included adding irrigated walls to grow plants, according to Quartz. Though these perks reinforce the cultural values of the organization, investors questioned if they distracted workers from achieving overall business success and outcomes.
Etsy’s perks-driven culture is the latest in a trend toward more exotic perks to woo talented employees. In recent years, some companies have proudly shown off their go-kart tracks, basketball courts, giant slides, concierge services and on-site acupuncture to make the case that they are a “great place to work.”
But as companies begin to consider how they try to win over employees, it’s critical that they avoid racing after trends that may initially attract workers, but will ultimately fail to retain them. After all, these perks may be alluring at first, but companies need to make sure they’re not overlooking the fundamental benefits and perks for which most job seekers are actually looking.
Employees Would Switch Jobs for These Benefits and Perks
According to Gallup’s recent State of the American Workplace report, employees categorically say they would be willing to leave their current job for one that offers greater flexibility and financial rewards.
Gallup data indicate that most organizations offer some level of the benefits job seekers are looking for, such as health insurance, paid vacation and 401(k)s; nevertheless, employees still indicate they’d leave a job for these benefits.
This suggests that many employers are under-delivering on the quality of these offerings. Key lesson: You may already have the benefits your employees want, just not at the level they would like.
There are also some benefits and perks that employees are seeking but many companies simply don’t offer.
Based on Gallup’s research, today’s workers want to be able to work off-site full time (35%) or even part time (37%), though few employers offer that option.
In addition, employees would also prefer financial benefits, such as profit-sharing (40%), pensions (51%) and monetary bonuses (54%), and say they would be willing to change jobs to receive these benefits.
Although there are many reasons why employers are not able to provide these kinds of benefits, clearly there is a disconnect in some instances between what employers offer and what employees want.
How to Evaluate Your Perks and Benefits
Many organizations we talk to are beginning to think more holistically about taking care of their employees. In doing so, they need to consider that employees today are looking for employers that offer a total rewards package — one that supports the lifestyle they want to have today and in the future.
So where should employers begin? Our experience tells us that there are four essential questions to ask first:
1. Do your benefits and perks align with your culture?
Employers need to be mindful of what they are offering employees and if the workday, the culture and the management philosophy actually allow for the use of these perks.
We’ve worked with employees who were initially attracted to an organization that offered an array of flashy perks, and yet, employees rarely had the time or the freedom to use them. Paradoxically, in our experience, unused pingpong tables, basketball courts and even fitness centers served as a reminder of the life the employee was promised but one that was unattainable because of their heavy workload.
A better investment of time and money would be to survey employees in a scientifically rigorous way to understand which current benefits and perks are most rewarding, which drive the highest retention rates and which benefits, if offered, would be warmly received.
2. Do your benefits and perks take into account employees’ changing needs?
Life changes have an impact on every part of the traditional benefits packages, from child care to healthcare to retirement programs. To retain exceptional talent over the long term, employers must offer a total job package that takes care of employees over their entire career and in different stages of their life.
Benefits and perks should follow a lifecycle approach, in which employees’ needs are met in their early, mid- and late career. If not, employees may reluctantly transition to a new employer because their lifestyle has changed — without ever considering potential accommodations.
3. Do your employees know what your perks and benefits are?
It is worth repeating that employers may offer the desired benefits and perks, but employees are still stating that they would be willing to leave their current position to receive a higher level of the same benefit. Companies should keep taking a pulse on these needs and adjusting when possible.
Gallup has also discovered that, in spite of available benefits and perks, many employees are unaware of them or do not remember all that their company offers. It may be time to reintroduce underused perks to your team or find better ways of sharing information about them. Perhaps a 100+ page document is not be the best way to communicate different offerings. To achieve this, some companies are implementing company apps, videos and surveys that help serve up information based on an employee’s specific needs and interests.
4. Is flexibility part of your total perks and benefits package?
Companies need to determine how they currently offer benefits and perks that allow for autonomy and flexibility in how work gets done. Not all companies or positions can offer the same level of flexibility, but employers need to think of employees as talented individuals with rich lives and consider their health, and community and social interests. Allowing talented individuals the freedom to live the life they want ultimately drives performance.
Flexibility doesn’t always have to relate to time. Some roles and industries make flexible time difficult, so consider other ways people can change up their routine and control their day, things like job sharing, casual dress and optional collaborative workspaces.
Retaining World-Class Talent Requires Long-Term Thinking
Most employees do not leave a job for benefits and perks alone — pay, management and career growth remain the top reasons for leaving a job — but a competitor’s benefits are more attractive when employees are less engaged at work. Unfortunately, most employees in the U.S. are either not engaged (51%) or actively disengaged (16%), and nearly 51% of employees, regardless of their engagement level, say that they are searching for a new job or watching for openings.
With this in mind, the goal for employers should not be to keep up with the hottest trends in job perks but to cultivate and care for the organization’s talent in every aspect of their life over the long term. A comprehensive, thoughtful selection of benefits and perks should support the attraction, retention, performance — and growth — of exceptional, world-class talent.
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