Putting the Human in HR: 7 Human Resource Skills that Improve Employee Engagement

Countless studies highlight why employee engagement should be a top priority for organizations today. Engaged employees are more productive and less likely to miss work. They stick with their jobs longer. They are more willing to collaborate. They even make great brand ambassadors.

Disengaged employees, on the other hand, cost companies between $450 and $550 billion each year.

Strategic human resource skills are key to unlocking employee engagement
Strategic human resource skills are key to unlocking employee engagement.

When you add up all the statistics, you start to see why it makes business sense to invest in employee engagement. Yet, when it comes to taking action, some companies still fall behind.

A 2018 Gallup survey reported that 34 percent of the U.S. workforce is “engaged,” a number that has been steadily climbing since 2009. At the same time, the number of “actively disengaged” workers shrunk to 13 percent, its lowest level since 2000. While these numbers are promising, they still show that roughly two-thirds of employees do not consider themselves engaged at work.

Your HR department is full of skilled individuals who can spearhead the effort to get employees more invested in their work. Their initiatives need to be strategic and informed in order to get results. Here are seven human resource skills you can take advantage of to increase employee engagement.

How to Measure Employee Engagement

Before you start building an employee engagement plan, you need to understand where your employees currently stand. An employee engagement survey allows you to establish benchmarks so you can set goals and measure results.

However, getting an accurate read on employee engagement can be difficult, given how subjective and emotionally charged the topic can be. An employee may experience feelings of disengagement if they’ve had a particularly rough week at work. That doesn’t mean they’re actively disengaged.

Knowing how to quantify employee engagement is a key human resource skill.
Knowing how to quantify employee engagement is a key human resource skill.

If your organization is particularly large and complex, and if you feel engagement is low, you may want to work with a survey expert. They can develop a customized approach designed to pinpoint the reasons employees might be disengaged, with metrics that will help you track the results of specific initiatives, and give you more options in terms of reporting, data breakouts and analysis.

Smaller organizations can try their hand at writing and deploying their own survey using tools like Survey Monkey. If you go this route, follow best practices for survey methodology to ensure your results are accurate and useful. Avoid leading questions. Keep answer choices balanced. Make sure your employees know their responses will be anonymous.

Or, you can check out Fond’s Engagement Survey, which is available within the Fond platform. It provides organizations with an employee net promoter score (eNPS), measures eight key engagement drivers, and offers qualitative feedback.

However you choose to measure engagement, you’ll want to repeat it on a regular basis (annually or every other year) and track your results over time.

7 Human Resource Skills that Improve Employee Engagement

Once you’ve established your baseline and set your goals, you can identify which human resource skills will best help improve engagement in the workplace. Understanding these skills can help improve your workers’ personal and professional satisfaction and lead to higher levels of engagement.

1. They Have Attention to Detail: Crafting an Amazing Hiring Process

A common human resource skill is attention to detail. One way this helps employee engagement is by paying close attention to the hiring process. 

Attention to detail is a must-have human resource skill in the hiring process.
Attention to detail is a must-have human resource skill in the hiring process.

When a new hire has a bad attitude or lacks the skills needed for the job, it can affect the morale and productivity of the entire team. Hiring best practices help you choose the right employees, which leads to higher long-term engagement.

Leverage your attention to detail and make sure your job description is clear, descriptive and accurately represents the position, which will help attract qualified applicants. Describe your company’s mission and culture to appeal to those who share similar values. HR should work with the position’s direct supervisor to draft the job description and skills required from someone who has technical knowledge of the role.

Your interview process should be designed to assess if the candidate is a good fit, as well as their skillset. If the role is fast-paced, you want an applicant that thrives in a bustling environment. If the position involves lots of collaboration, think twice before hiring someone who’d rather work individually. These are all smaller details that can add up to a major decision about a candidate.

Make sure the direct supervisor is involved in the interview process. If it comes down to two identical candidates, you may want to choose the one who has a better rapport with the supervisor, which is often a predictor of higher engagement.

2. They Have the Ability to Iterate: Refining the Onboarding Experience

HR leaders are constantly looking for new ways to improve their processes. One process that needs to continuously improve is the onboarding experience.

Onboarding begins from the moment you hire a new employee. A bad onboarding process, or none at all, can make an employee feel lost, disinterested or unprepared to tackle their new role. HR professionals with the right human resource skills ensure their onboarding process is designed to turn a new hire into an engaged, enthusiastic employee before their first day even begins. 

Continually iterate on your onboarding process to make it the best it can be.
Continually iterate on your onboarding process to make it the best it can be.

Keep the lines of communication open up to and beyond their first day. Send them materials to read so they can get up to speed on your company’s culture, mission, vision and values; encourage them to ask questions; and send an orientation schedule so they know what time to report, who they should meet with and where they should park. 

Have their workstation and essentials set up before they get there. Set up training sessions with co-workers so they can learn about different processes and meet people at the same time. These are all behaviors reflective of an HR professional who is passionate about the onboarding process.

Great HR teams even put together a welcome kit with a brand book (if available), nameplate, card from the CEO, and company swag. They get creative with ways to welcome your new hire into the fold, and new employees feel engaged with the company from day one.

3. They Advocate for Everyone: Redesigning the Compensation Strategy

Human resource skills extend beyond salaries and bonuses. The best HR professionals consider new and innovative ways to compensate employees.

Knowing how to get innovative when it comes to compensation is an important human resource skill.
Knowing how to get innovative when it comes to compensation is an important human resource skill.

Compensation and engagement go hand-in-hand. Employees who feel valued by their employers are more likely to stay with them long-term. While salary and bonuses are important, surveys show they aren’t everything. Sixty percent of workers want a job that offers outstanding perks and benefits, according to a Harris Poll survey.

Employers can get creative with redesigning their compensation strategy and choose to offer perks that align with their values and brand. Wellness programs demonstrate your commitment to health and well-being, while extra vacation days and flex time show you care about work-life balance. Rewards and recognition programs can also incentivize and engage employees.

4. They Maintain Communication: Encourage Management to Be Open

One of the biggest drivers of employee engagement is open and proactive communication that goes both ways: from the top down, and from the bottom up. HR leaders leverage their communication skills to maintain open communication in the workplace.

Communication is more than important human resource skill, it's a must for any successful professional.
Communication is more than important human resource skill, it’s a must for any successful professional.

Leaders that communicate with their employees transparently and authentically build trust and rapport within the office. When employees are kept in the loop, even on potentially negative issues, it gives them an idea of where the organization is headed and how their work fits into the bigger picture. 

When leaders are silent, it breeds rumors and discontent. You might think it’s better to shield bad news from your employees, but if they don’t know what’s going on, they’re much more likely to disengage and jump ship.

HR leaders should encourage employees and management to communicate regularly. Employee engagement surveys are helpful, but they only measure sentiment once a year. Make sure employees feel heard year-round. Actively listen to their feedback and concerns so you know what’s going on within your organization and take steps to address or improve issues as they come up.

5. They Encourage Growth: Professional Development

The best HR professionals are invested in the professional development of others. Employees don’t want to be stuck in dead-end jobs. Opportunities for professional growth are important, especially to millennials. 

Offer your team plenty of opportunities for professional development to boost engagement
Offer your team plenty of opportunities for professional development to boost engagement.

More than 80 percent of employees would quit their jobs for better development opportunities. Cultivating your employees’ growth is a win-win situation — it keeps them engaged and allows them to develop new skill sets that will make them stronger employees.

Professional development can come in many forms, including mentorship programs, conferences, workshops, cross-training, membership in industry organizations and career coaching. When considering what opportunities you want to offer, listen to what employees want, what fits into their schedule and what will motivate them most. You want your employee to feel excited about learning, not burdened because they have to attend yet another seminar.

6. They Exercise Strong Management Skills: Training and Culture

People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers. Your organization could be doing everything else right, but if you have an ineffective manager, it could damage your retention rate. 

Use your human resource skills to support your managers.
Use your human resource skills to support your managers.

The best HR leaders exercise and reinforce strong management skills by ensuring managers have adequate training, especially if they’ve never been in a supervisory role. They also ensure management understands your organization’s culture and values so they can adjust their management style accordingly. Successful managers receive training from HR leaders on how to reward and recognize employees for outstanding work. This helps both managers and employees understand the company’s culture and what behaviors align with the organization’s culture and vision.

Be sure your managers understand how often to recognize, what to recognize for, and what behaviors to reinforce at your company. Use your human resource skills to ensure managers are educated on your culture and your company’s mission.

7. They Build Trust: Getting Leadership Buy-In

Leadership attitudes toward engagement are directly linked to engagement levels. An effective employee engagement strategy will only succeed if your organization’s leaders are behind it.

One of the most important human resource skills is gaining buy in from leadership in your engagement efforts.
One of the most important human resource skills is gaining buy-in from leadership in your engagement efforts.

HR leaders leverage their human resources skills to get buy-in from leadership. Making the improvements outlined above will take time, money and resources, but they are an investment in human capital. 

One thing you can do is prepare an employee engagement action plan that outlines your employees’ current state of engagement, specific steps and initiatives, measurable goals and metrics for success. This will help your CEO see engagement as more than a buzzword, but as a strategic HR investment.

Your employees are your organization’s most important asset. Build a foundation for increasing engagement in the workplace and reap the benefits of increased productivity, higher retention, and a happier workforce.

Derek Kanehira, Director of HR Services at Hawaii Employers CouncilDerek Kanehira is vice president and director of HR services at Hawaii Employers Council, a member-driven nonprofit providing HR and legal resources to more than 800 employers in Hawaii.

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