Employee engagement doesn’t just happen, Paaras Parker, CHRO at Cincinnati-based Paycor HCM, emphasizes. To get your talent invested in their work, make sure you know who they are, what they care about and how they’re doing—personally and professionally.
Parker spoke with StrategicCHRO360 about how to create this kind of connection, the importance of consistency and when telling someone their work is “good” is better than telling them it’s “amazing.”
What crucial moves should managers make to improve engagement at work?
It’s critical for managers to really know their team members. Employees can tell when they are being treated as a means to an end. In other words, managers who understand who is on their team and what is important to them, what motivates them will see larger success in retaining and engaging great talent.
When holding one-on-one meetings with direct reports, managers need to authentically show why they are taking the time to connect and need to prepare just as much as the employee needs to prepare.
The key to holding a successful and productive one-on-one meeting is for both parties to come prepared with what’s important, priority items and sometimes, a set agenda and idea of who will be speaking first. It is the responsibility of the manager to create a space to be present, set the stage, help their direct reports prioritize—and support them in the process.
Holding consistent one-on-one meetings allows leaders and team members to create strong connections over time, and particularly in a virtual space, allows managers to see how their employees are doing and how they are feeling. This is something that managers might not pick up on over email or a Zoom, so having these in-person or virtual one-on-one meetings will give them an opportunity to see how their employees are really doing.
Why are young employees feeling the most disconnected and how should managers combat this?
I believe the rise of social media and connections being a little more topical in nature outside of our work lives is impacting younger employees’ ability to create meaningful connections outside of these platforms, such as TikTok and Instagram. The way that we are connecting with our friends and social networks outside of work is so different from how we need to connect in business to create a successful environment. This has created a larger gap for young employees to navigate.
To combat this, managers must determine what is important to their young employees—both inside and outside of work—so that they can understand how to empower them and help them become more successful. Additionally, managers must create an environment where people feel safe to connect. This looks different for everyone.
For example, I will always start with shout-outs and ask my reports what they are proud of from the week before. I also make an effort to remember people’s birthdays and other small things they share with me that are important to them. For example, if any employee lets me know that they have their family member’s dance recital after work, it takes 10 seconds to ask them how it was the next morning—and those 10 seconds can make a huge difference.
These moments over time will help create an authentic connection. This doesn’t happen in one meeting or one virtual or physical happy hour, but will only occur with consistent behavior over time.
What are the factors that are causing employees to become increasingly disengaged?
Employees start feeling disengaged when they lose track of how they are adding value to the organization. If you don’t understand your role, how it connects to the bigger picture, or why your day-to-day tasks matter, you will become increasingly disengaged.
This is also the case for individuals who lack connections with their supervisors, or don’t have colleagues who they are close with at work. Employees start to feel engaged however, once they are clear on their expectations, how their role connects to the company’s larger goals, and why the work they are doing is important.
Additionally, as a population, we are becoming very impatient and expect things to happen quickly because we want things to, and when this doesn’t happen, we become disengaged.
Finally, when employees hear over and over again that they are “great,” “outstanding” or “amazing,” they begin to assume that they are exceeding expectations. Because of this, we need to emphasize re-celebrating “good” work.
It’s less about not telling people that they are “great,” but also making sure to make an effort to tell them when they are doing a “good” job. We need to be more specific and deliberate when we deliver what people are doing well on, so that our employees do not tire of hearing that they are “fantastic.”
What are your predictions for the future of work, and what we can expect to see in the near term?
I think people are going to find and not shy away from defining what “purpose” and “value” looks like for them. In turn, companies are going to continue focusing on having really strong values and defining what their vision, mission and purpose is.
As we get better at doing this, companies are going to get really smart about how they market their work and the pace of their work. In addition, companies are going to continue to grow and do a better job at declaring expectations, communicating strategy, and being really clear on organization design and determining what roles are needed to drive not only the success of today, but also, the success of tomorrow.
Companies pay attention to what’s important to attracting talent, what makes people stay and what makes people go. In the future, this will ensure that we are delivering business results and shareholder value while also creating a place where people want to go and do really meaningful work.