At the annual SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) conference that kicks off in the capital on Thursday, with the theme of WIN – how sound HR practices can win people’s hearts - Brad Shuck, Associate Professor, Organisational Leadership and Learning, University of Louisville, Kentucky and strategic and academic partner of BI worldwide will be delivering a talk on employee value proposition. In an email interview with BusinessLine ahead of the event, he talks of trends shaping engagement

A happy workplace is a more productive workplace. And yet, HR in most organizations is still a killjoy with painful processes and rules. Explain the contradiction?

It is true that a happy workplace is often a more productive workplace, and the research would back this up. It’s also true that traditionally, HR has been viewed as a process-oriented department responsible for time-tracking, payroll and benefits. For many years, HR departments operated under this mandate. While HR is still responsible for these kinds of tasks, some HRdepartments have evolved to include a strong focus on employee happiness, building employee engagement, and driving a positive organisational culture. In time, for those organisations that are able to make this shift from a process-only focus to a more inclusive culture focus, HR might become a different kind of department, one that is less undesirable and is a strategic partner in driving everything from talent development, recruitment, and organisational storytelling to bottom-line results that impact the overall success of the company. For this to happen though, HR must be seen as a critical business partner and have a seat at the table when it comes to strategic planning and brand building.

We’re seeing this begin to happen in leading organizations around the globe, ones who are empowering their HR departments to develop and activate their company’s employee value proposition (EVP). Though an EVP is manifested in the culture of the company, these HR departments are responsible for bringing it to life and sustaining it across the organisation as a way of attracting, engaging and retaining employees.

What are the new trends in keeping employees engaged? How is technology being used?

One of the newest trends in keeping employees engaged is to consider the entire employee life cycle, starting with before they are even hired through after they leave a company.

BIW’s approach to engagement throughout the entire employee journey – an out of the box approach that is driving results – is called “make every moment count.”

Making every moment count starts with understanding how employees, prospective candidates, and alumni perceive an organization’s brand and then use that information to develop an authentic EVP. There are five moments that are important in activating an organization’s EVP for each employee:

1. Decision Day (Can I see myself here?)

2. First Day (Did I make the right choice?)

3. Every Day (Is this a place I’d like to stay?)

4. Achievement Day (Am I valued and appreciated?)

5. Referral Day (Am I happy here?)

Technology is playing a strong role in onboarding and recognition as well as in big data and data analytics. For example, BIW is embedding IBM Watson Analytics into engagement platforms to identify opportunities and develop strategies that help managers recognize employees early on and recognize their team members appropriately. It’s also being used to understand the outcomes of programs, influence culture, and help leaders make in-the-moment decisions about driving engagement through their organizations’ employee value proposition.

Are employees more engaged in start-ups versus legacy firms?

Employees may seem more engaged in a start-up versus a legacy firm because they absolutely have meaning in their work and they can see that line of sight. People like to be part of something bigger than just a job or a paycheck. One of the New Rules of Engagement that BIW has is: don’t kill the meaning. As Rodd Wagner states, “The sense of meaning occurs without much help from companies themselves. Many employees are attracted to their employers because there is something about what they do that is important to them.” Regardless of whether an organisation is a start-up or legacy firm, if the purpose and values match the individual’s, the employee will be engaged.

How much of a contribution does a leader make to employee engagement?

The right leader can make all the difference to an organisation, team, or individual. Our research at the University of Louisville has indicated that dysfunctional leaders, or terrible bosses (the kind that make your blood pressure rise when you see them coming down the hall), influence a host of negative and unfortunate outcomes, from lower productivity and reduced innovation to higher turnover.They’ve even been shown to impact individual employee health outcomes caused by chronic stress including loss of sleep, and higher levels of self-reported depression. On the other hand, great leaders – the kind that inspire their teams to go further and who regularly communicate meaning and value – have been shown to have just the opposite effect. We call these leaders compassionate leaders, and our research shows that these leaders engage in seven distinct types of leader behaviors: (a) they treat employees and their teams with dignity, (b) they are authentic and check their egos, (c) they remain present in the moment, (d) they hold their teams and employees accountable for great work, (e) they lead with integrity, and (f) they support through empathy.

Out of all of our research, the one leader behavior that really drives employee behavior in the workplace is dignity, and for us, that was a very interesting finding. Treating people with dignity, for example, does not cost any money and is so easy to do, but it does require a leader to check their ego at the door, to consider the value of every person on their team and treat them with that value and meaning. So often, we see people being asked to do undignified work, or being treated in ways that rob them of their dignity in work, and then wonder why they are not performing or why they struggle at work.

There is no question in our minds, and our research continues to show over and over again, that leaders make a measurable difference and impact an organization – it is just a question of the kind of impact they will make.Some leaders impact an organization in negative ways and bleed their organization of talent, while others help an organization transform and become overwhelming industry leaders with an undeniable competitive advantage.