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The Missing Link In Human Resource Development

Frustrated by disengaged employees and a disgruntled workforce? David Too, Senior Director of HR Consulting at Achieve Group discusses the missing ingredient in employee engagement – relationships at work.

Despite all the buzz about employee engagement, the cold hard truth is that there remains a missing link in human resource development today. 

The demise of human relations
I blame work pressure for the demise of human relations in the workplace today.

Managers often fail to recognise the crucial role that the environment plays in the disengagement of their workforce. While office environments in Singapore may not be that atrocious, there are certainly many areas that can be improved.

The environment is a function of the job responsibilities and work tasks assigned to employees. So it is a recipe for trouble when the workload increases without giving employees corresponding empowerment or the proper equipment to complete the task.

These days, there is so much talk about productivity – doing more with less – and surely, there is nothing wrong with the concept. Except that managers need to realise that employees must be given the necessary time, resources and tools in order to achieve higher productivity.

These environmental factors have to be taken into consideration as bona fide contributors to unhappiness at the workplace. They may also include favouritism of one employee over another, unreasonable demands and deadlines imposed on employees, harassment, criticising employees in front of clients or colleagues, poor communication, feedback that is primarily negative in tone, betrayal of trust, and lack of team co-operation.

Add to these the very real challenge of managing a multi-generational workforce comprising Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y, and the downstream effect of all this is that interpersonal relationships in the workplace are bound to suffer.

Having a hierarchical organisational structure also contributes to employee disengagement. In such organisations, fear is used to intimidate employees into producing results. This can breed a dysfunctional work culture where employees only wait for instructions and do not show any initiative. Although hierarchy may be useful in providing employees with a clear role and direction, overplaying it will negatively reinforce the message that ‘the boss is always right’ and the employee may not make a move until he is explicitly told by the boss to do so.

Another culprit contributing to disengaged employees is a theory in social psychology called fundamental attribution error. This occurs when managers or bosses focus too much on the employee’s individual traits as the reasons for their behaviours, while under-valuing the external factors that may cause such behaviour. This may give rise to managers having erroneous opinions and short-sighted judgements of employees, which add to unhappiness in the workplace.

Many organisations also tend to centre their notions of engagement or performance on the ‘hard’ stuff like key performance indicators (KPIs). When organisations become overly focused on the ‘hard’ stuff, the real emotional engagement – the ‘soft’ stuff – breaks down. Because that’s not what people want; they want to be listened to, spoken to more respectfully, etc.

All these negative occurrences run counter-productive to the development of a positive and supporting work culture. Unfortunately, managers don’t receive enough training to get that these intangibles actually have a huge impact on employee engagement and consequently, profit.

Clueless managers
We are all aware of the all too familiar refrain: ‘People join companies but leave managers’. Curiously, not enough organisations or even human resource development teams for that matter, are paying enough attention to what to do about it.

Some managers just lack the people management capabilities that range from how to communicate, coach and motivate to something as simple as effective listening skills.

To their credit, organisations often do recognise the importance of having a workforce that is united by a spirit of trust and respect. However, the brutal truth is that they don’t have a clue how to go about doing it. And packing your employees off for training as a quick-fix solution just won’t work. Because there isn’t much point of them acquiring the right skillsets when the work environment remains plagued by systemic problems, and the environmental conditions are not conducive to creating lasting change.

Now that we have identified the missing link in human resource development today, what can we do about it?

The solution
Going back to our original focus, the key to improving workplace conditions and employee engagement lies in strengthening human relationships.

This can be achieved when there is a ‘people appreciation of people’ philosophy within the workforce, and going to work is not viewed as a transactional exchange of money paid for an agreed-upon number of work hours.

A positive and supportive work environment will emerge when individuals’ unique strengths are understood and appreciated. Exploring ways that the team can supplement potential areas of weaknesses is another way to create a more positive work culture.

Some degree of humility is also necessary. Too often, managers may take it upon themselves to try to exert complete control over situations that are simply too vast in complexity. Instead, managers need to recognise their own limitations and not over-estimate their ability to control or worse, judge a situation when the entire context in which it takes place in is much too complex.

The traditional management mindset will need to be shifted from a bias towards managers as all-knowing individuals who create great results through their own thoughts and actions to that of better employee engagement achieved through a bi-directional process, which asserts that employees have just as big a role to play as managers do in building an atmosphere of mutual support, trust, and respect.

Want to know exactly how you can achieve such an ideal work environment? Find out from our HR Consulting division on the human resource development programmes we can customise for you.

Source: HRM Asia, 21 Sep 2012