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Wednesday 4th June 2014

The employee's year

According to Forbes, 2014 is meant to be all about the people. What's that all about, then?

Back at the end of 2013, an article in Forbes magazine proclaimed that 2014 would be The Year of the Employee. The argument ran that the long conflict between the interest of employers, and the interests of employees, was done. “The war for talent is over,” it said, “and the talent won.”

But what’s that really all about, and is it true? And if it is true, what does it mean? Most businesses I know don’t seem ready for a major shift in the relationship between the business and the talent.

So, is it true? Well, looking at some recent data, a pattern seems to show that the relationship between employer and employee has indeed changed radically in the last ten years.

Things really began to kick off with the financial crisis back in 2007. The behaviour of many corporate leaders during and following the economic crisis started eroding much of the trust employees had in leadership and strategy.

The crisis and the aftermath allowed many business leaders to cut their way out of problems that were often not wholly connected to the crisis itself. As a quick look at the post-crisis UK job cuts shows, many in the UK had nothing to do with the crisis itself. If it looks that way to us, you can bet for sure that the employees knew exactly what was going on.

Your people want out

And if the financial crisis was the beginning of a rift, the return to growth has caused the cracks to widen. With a growing economy and record numbers in work, opportunities to change roles are on the up – not only do your people not want to stay, but it’s easier for them to leave and this shifts an enormous amount of power to the employee.

So if people don’t trust their boss, and there are loads of other opportunities around, maybe the balance of power really has shifted

Also, it’s highly likely that much of the talent in your organisation doesn’t really want to be there. Whichever measure of employee engagement you look at, the gurus all say the same: workers in the UK are disengaged at record levels, and it’s getting worse.

A recent survey from Dale-Carnegie in the US showed that as many as 75% of the workforce is either disengaged (that is bad), or actively disengaged (very bad, these guys are ‘terrorists’, and are trying to destroy you from within).

Before you get complacent that the US must be a terrible place to work, the UK news is even worse – in a 2014 survey by Orc International, the UK was 18th out of 20 in the employee engagement league table, way behind the US.

More bad news

Do you need to do anything? Yes, and the clock is ticking. McKinsey reports forecast a 40 million shortfall in college-educated workers by 2020, and a population with none of the right skills.

So the dynamic has shifted; an ever-shrinking population of talent is unhappy, doesn’t trust the boss, and has loads more options. Thankfully though, solutions do exist.

But solutions to a new set of problems require some thinking. Radical solutions are needed for a radically redefined relationship with your employees, and you’d better start with listening to why they are disengaged in the first place.

One of the first reasons the relationship broke down was poor leadership, so better engagement must start with better leadership. And for better leadership, think authentic leadership.

In an age where most people can find out most things in one Google search, they’re seeing through old style leadership pretty quickly.

Not only that, but employees increasingly want to believe in what they are doing. This is especially true for Gen Y. If you want to capitalise on a redefined relationship, make sure your leaders are able to be authentic about what they are doing and to communicate that belief in a real way.

Beyond the leaders, you need to develop your people and make them believe that working for you is better than working elsewhere. Throw away the fear that training them up means they are better placed for a new job somewhere else.

Show belief in their long term ability and you might just get some back. Whether it’s mentoring, time off for CSR work, or letting them fulfil dreams of studying something new, open your mind and let them show you what development means to them, not the other way round.

I believe you’ll get a huge payback in engagement.

Tech advantage

Lastly, get revolutionary with technology. The change in employee and employer relationship has broken down many of the old hierarchies.

Don’t be worried. Harness this revolution, make it easier for people to communicate and collaborate, whatever their level or experience.

There’s great technology out there across all devices. Some of it may not even look like HR technology, but if it helps engagement and performance, have a go.

Trial some of the disruptive tech that’s out there. The world is getting increasingly disruptive, so why aren’t you?

About the author

Nick Holmes

From Monday to Friday, HR technology is my world. I help a diverse set of customers get the most they can from HR & elearning technology. It’s a complex world for HR leaders – there are no easy solutions, and no two leaders are the same. Business is changing fast, and HR is changing fastest of all, which keeps life supremely interesting. I’m a zealot about technology, collaboration, authentic leadership and how these are all combining to change the way we will work in the future.