Why are employees so unhappy these days?
Are you happy with your employer?
In a recent survey conducted by Mercer as reported by the Straits Times, 42,000 employees in Singapore are said to be less engaged and less happy with their employers compared with our Asia Pacific neighbors. With one of our country’s competitive advantages being a well trained and efficient work force, the trend of decreasing employee engagement in the past three years compared with global poll numbers, should be a concern to the nation, employers and the individuals.
What is your vote? What can you do?
However what can you, as an employee, go about this issue? Based on my experience as an owner of a SME and a manager of giant multinational firm in the past, these are my views as a people manager and a CEO.
- The Singapore economy has matured over the decades and is continously trying to find ways to re-invent itself to get onto a new curve for faster growth. There have been more discussions about right sizing, downsizing than upsizing. Growth opportunities for employees in Singapore have definitely decreased in the past 3 years which may have contributed to the perception of lack of growth and innovation.
- The high cost of doing business coupled with a tight labor market led the employers to be cautious in hiring and more aggressive in automation of business processes, thus, reducing the number of employees. Some of the functions are being outsourced or manned by contract workers. Employers are more focused on remodeling the company to be competitive. The HR department are spending more and more time formulating, changing policies and implementing processes to align with the business changes. This could have resulted in less attention in employee development and training.
- The demand for the skills of supervisors in people management such as coaching, feedback and managing new ideas is much higher given the challenging economic and business climate. There is an urgency to invest in the training of managers and supervisors to equip them with better skills in coaching and engagement of our employees. The HR department can also act as “advisors” and resources for the supervisors.
- To do a better job in engagement, top management must commit to implementing a better talent management process. With more automation, using appraisal and training management software, the HR department can devote more time and resources to assist the managers to implement talent management software in the company. The comprehensive employee training program can then be implemented more extensively and accurately using the results of quarterly performance appraisals together with company competency framework and training programs to tailor training plans for each employee. In this process, supervisors should take the opportunity to engage employees in discussion about their aspirations, possible opportunities in the company and what development program may be needed. This process of two-way communication will be key in building trust, confidence and loyalty, greatly enhance engagement with the employees.
- Employees should learn to take charge of their own career development by engaging their employers on a regular basis. Most employees do not initiate discussion on career development with their managers or HR department. Some employers might view employees as too assertive and demanding if employees were to initiate the discussion. It could be due to our Asian culture of being humble and preferring to wait for our bosses to initiate such discussion. As a result of lack of communication, many employees plan their development without first engaging their present employers or supervisors. This may result in differences or gaps in understanding of what are possible in terms of development and advancement. Employers often only learn about their employee’s career aspirations and plans after receiving the employees’ letter of resignation. Sadly, most of the career development is done with the “advice” on the internet, friends and colleagues without really engaging the supervisors and management. This may be a loss on both sides, simply because of lack of consistent and proper communication and planning.
This may be one of the most difficult processes to manage as it depends on the culture and resources of the company concerned. To make it work, the company must start with a commitment to a process and allocate some resources to allow ideas to flow through to the department and the top management who may be able to adopt the ideas and implement the changes. It is important to recognize and reward good ideas that are adopted. It is surprisingly a very effective way to increase engagement with the employees but it requires focus and resources.
In summary, it is important to pay attention to the subject of employee engagement as it makes a difference to the effectiveness and competitiveness of a company. Training of the managers to be more skillful in coaching and implementation of a simple but effective talent management process which is automated using talent management software will be a good start. When employees perceives that their employer cares about their long-term development and progress they will certainly feel more valued by the company and stay more engaged at work.
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