The employer-employee relationship dynamic is one of the most complex aspects of an organization. What makes some employees respond better to certain types of environments and managers than others? HR professionals have asked themselves this for a quite a while in their search for candidates and management of employees. Along with these questions (and many others), we must now ask, has the employer-employee relationship changed compared to years past? And if so, how and what should we do to ensure employees stay engaged?
Employees today are searching for companies they can build relationships with over the long term. They want management to see them as partners rather than subordinates. And without this emphasis on partnership, employees are more likely to fall into the bucket of Americans who are unengaged at their jobs. No longer is it about just putting in the hours.
“Employees want strong relationships with their future employers.”
Employees want to be (and feel) engaged – although few rarely are – in their work. They want to be enthusiastic about what they’re doing and believe they’re contributing to a bigger picture. They want to help run the system rather than be a mere cog in it.
The Role Managers Play in Employee Engagement
The best managers take time to get to know their employees and make them feel comfortable. By being able to feel like they can approach their managers with any type of question, the likelihood the employee becomes and stays engaged rises. To construct this type of employer-employee dynamic, both parties need to improve how they communicate with each other.
“Employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees whose managers do not hold regular meetings with them,” noted Jim Harter and Amy Adkins of Gallup. They continued by saying, “Gallup found that engagement is highest among employees who have some form (face to face, phone to digital) of daily communication with their managers.”
Michael Sturman and Sanghee Park, authors of a study examining the evolution of relationships between supervisors and their employees, noted that employees pay special attention to how they’re treated, and they respond accordingly by changing how they perform. “In the first year of a relationship between a supervisor and a subordinate, the subordinate’s perceptions of fairness constitute the most important factor for determining both future performance and how well the relationship with the supervisor will develop,” said Sturman and Park. They continued by noting “job performance and initial satisfaction” levels still play a role in the employer-employee relationship, but they take a backseat at the outset.
“Thus, these first impressions of supervisor fairness (and those perceptions throughout the first year of employment) are crucial for the development of a quality supervisor-subordinate relationship,” the authors said.
How HR Can Support This New Relationship
To help managers make great first impressions with their teams, HR needs to equip them with the correct tools in the form of perks, benefits, rewards and recognition that will help them mend bridges and build relationships.
After studying 2.5 million manager-led teams and 27 million employees in nearly 200 countries, Gallup researchers suggested that to improve the dynamics between employers and employees, the former needs to recognize the latter for their great work. In turn this will improve engagement rates, which currently sit around 33 percent, according to Amy Adkins of Gallup.
Employers should also recognize consistent growth among their workforce, reinforce and recognize goals and achievements and support initiatives that increase transparency between employers and their employees. In years past, more formal and hierarchical relationships between employers and their subordinates were common. But today those structures are quickly being redefined in favor of workplace environments that view employees as partners instead of subordinates.
If you’d like to make changes in your own organization (and we hope you do), start by analyzing how leaders and employees work together. Then take steps to build or rebuild your HR benefits program around a new form of doing business, one that recognizes employees more for their work and helps them be engaged as true partners.
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For more workplace tips on how to engage teams, download our free eBook, How to Build an Awesome Employee Engagement Plan.