HR story: engagement

June 2, 2020by Melania

We have all heard many times that employees are the greatest asset a company has and that a motivated team makes much more profit than a demotivated one. I believe that in the future one of the necessary developments will be – more so in the context of accelerated use of technology – to count with the utmost care and attention the difference between the results of motivated teams versus the results of demotivated teams. I am convinced that experts of all countries will find that numbers irrevocably show why it is important to motivate people and why it is essential for any sustainable business to build constantly the employer brand and to define our employee value proposition.

Until it will not become fully obvious that organizations are losing money, clients and opportunities because of unengaged employees, the interest in employer branding and the concrete actions to determine and maintain the brand will remain cute PowerPoints in corporate meetings.

So how will engagement be done in the future? Like “Love in the time of cholera”, if we think about motivating employees that we decided to keep while restructuring others or changing the business or downsizing a branch. Engage that, if you can!

If we look at the measures that we could see since April 2020 onwards, companies seem to have chosen extreme approaches: either firing employees through zoom, as Bird or Uber did, either communicate this kind of news with the utmost empathy, compassion and love as humanly possible, like Airbnb.

When I started my consulting business I said I was making the transition from “Up in the sky”, thinking about my work experience in the aviation sector, to “Up in the air”, alluding to my expectation that consulting projects would fall into the area of restructuring, reorganizing and organizational transformation that the market anticipated.

I have to admit I was not really expecting that the personal and painful process of firing would be performed through a 2 minutes pre-recorded message on zoom, as US based Bird did. That this is possible and is actually happening should scare us.

Why? Remember digitalization, everyone is talking about it. It is, whether we like it or not, whether we are aware of it or not, integral part of the professional environment. At a time where it is normal to post about our food, our coffee, our flowers and our books, how can you possibly imagine that we will not post about going through such a traumatic experience as losing our job on zoom?

Let us make this clear, there is no contest that organizations have solid reasons to restructure, what I am challenging is the way they do it, not the actual steps, as those are strictly regulated in labor law. Again, communication or lack thereof makes the difference between a correct, transparent and accepted process versus a publicly denounced one, discussed in gory detail over the social networks and made as public as possible.

Now is the time that organizations now rushing to restructure be reminded that the way they do it will remain into posterity on Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Twitter and anywhere else employees choose to express their opinions. And it will be forever associated to the employer brand. And that company later on will hire again. And the candidates, as a minimum gesture of preparing for an interview, will research the company online and land on the information that during the crisis the company treated its employees harshly. I would not swear this for all generations, but from my long experience with interviewing younger than 30 candidates, I can vouch that they will think twice about going to interviews to such a company.

That is why employer brand and engagement are more important than before. Because they are made or refined during hardship, when communication is a crisis communication. And what should crisis communication be, so it does help the employer brand or at least it does not hurt it? Essentially in my opinion it should be empathic, transparent, authentic, respectful and timely.

Speaking from each and every time I led restructuring projects, be they collective, individual or disguised in friendly negotiations, people respond to a message which is addressed respectfully, at the right time and which offers answers to their questions. And most of all when this is done in a conversation in which they feel their counterparty is sincere and fully committed to making things go as easily as possible, instead of just giving out the vibe that they would rather be anywhere else than in that room.

And it is again through transparency, respect, warm, personal and empathic communication that we can re-engage the remaining members of the team. Do not think that they go to work happy and relieved, thinking: “Yay, I survived the restructuring”. On the contrary, I can say, as a professional with a long track record in this, that people who remain after a restructuring are very scared and demotivated and they need to receive reassurances about the sustainability of the business and consequently of their workplace.

And these reassurances cannot be credibly conveyed if during the crisis the company communicated rarely, formally coldly or incompletely with its employees. How can we believe someone telling us we are safe when that decision was taken somewhere in an executive board room and we did not feel involved, consulted or informed throughout the process?

This is essentially the role of HR and all of the above goes to show that HR should be considered a strategic partner of business as its input is crucial in crisis. As HR is the one who is always close to the employees, whose communication to the employees is constant, as HR understands people and what they want and how they feel. As HR has gained their confidence through professional constant communication and it has credibility when conveying messages. And again, no AI can replace the insights that a human can extract from human interaction and cannot build relationships with warmth, empathy and compassion. That is why we need HR.




Melania is a graduate of Communication and an HR professional with 20 years of experience in PR and HR. Her areas of expertise focus on employer branding and all matters related to labor law, such as organizational transformation, restructuring, job grading and change management.