A Thanksgiving Thought: Listen to Your Employees, They Have Answers

From the HR blog at TLNT. Photo by istockphoto.com.
From the HR blog at TLNT. Photo by istockphoto.com.

Editor’s Note: This is only TLNT’s second holiday season, but there’s a lot of great content you might have missed at this time last year. So for the next two weeks, we’re republishing a daily “Classic TLNT” holiday post that might help you cope with the season (and your workplace) a little bit better. 

Like a lot of you, Thanksgiving is a time for both thanks and family.

My family runs the gamut from senior citizens to Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y. My wife and I have two children, a son who is Gen X and a Gen Y daughter, a daughter-in-law, and a new granddaughter. My niece who is a regular at our home along with her boyfriend, are both Gen X. Her mother — my sister — just retired. At the top of the food chain is my mother-in-law, who also recently retired from the school system.

Being in the Boomer generation myself, I love the interaction with both these groups. Our routine is always stimulating conversations which always turns into a spirited discussion. These discussions run the gamut of topics from politics to current events.

One of the topics that stirred the pot this year centered around careers, engagement, and overall talk of jobs. I drove this conversation when I mentioned a recently published post on TLNT that talked about the level of engagement within companies today. I listened intently, probed, and probed some more to try and get better insight into their thinking and the culture of their respective employers. I did not offer any opinion, but just tried to keep the thread of the conversation on track.

The players in my Thanksgiving discussion

To add some background analysis to my family, this is the makeup and the issues concerning them:

  • My son, who is department head of a global company based in the U.S., is dealing with an organizational change at the top. He has had to lay off some of his staff over the past year. A recent change at the top role in the U.S. has caused further angst (career development).
  • My niece is working on contract after having been gainfully employed since leaving college. She previously was a successful designer before being laid off from her design job. She’s looking for a new opportunity (temp job and engagement).
  • My wife was recently contacted by a search firm to interview for a new position with another retail brand (passive job seeker and engagement).
  • My niece’s boyfriend is working in HR and loving it, but has a manager who has no respect for work-life balance.  His boss thinks nothing of sending him on a last minute business trip across the country on a weekend on short notice. His plans are constantly being cancelled (HR management, company culture, engagement, and career development).
  • My daughter (Gen Y) is a star student and recent college grad with two undergrad degrees. She’s working two part-time jobs for strong brands but can’t break into an entry level marketing position. All her friends are basically going through the same thing (career development and engagement).

Later that evening, when everyone left, I checked my e-mail and found I had received two requesting job assistance.

  • One, from a friend who ask if I would intercede and use my contacts to see whether he could get an interview for a position.  He’s been out of work for close to a year (seeking employment, career change).
  • Another friend who has been out of work for over a year sent a thank you note for a recent job posting that I sent him. He was not successful in getting past the phone screen phase (seeking employment and career development).

Whew! What a day.

A microcosm of today’s workplace

As the day began on Friday, I could not get these discussions out of my mind. This was just one family, and I am sure that this scene and these kinds of conversations were duplicated across America on Thanksgiving day.

My passion is reading white papers on all kinds of HR topics. Whenever I read these reports, I always try and put a face to the numbers. Who do I know that this white paper reflects? I find this makes for more relevance, as opposed to just digesting static data.

My background is human resources, and I have an extreme passion for it being done with what I call HR 3.0. Get me in any conversation and I stand up for my profession and the way that I think it should (and will) have to be practiced. If I encountered a discussion about this in my home, imagine what your workforce is going through? Everyone knows of someone with a situation like the members of my family. In this recession, no one is immune.

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This is a microcosm of today’s workplace:

  • Lowest level of engagement on record.
  • Four different generations in the workplace trying to find their way.
  • Different levels of career development, and much discussion about what’s next.
  • Many employees actively looking externally for new opportunities.
  • Passive candidates in your workforce being approached by your competitors.
  • A number of employees in your workplace who recently retired or are nearing retirement.
  • Internal recruiters struggling with passive recruitment.
  • Managers trying to re-engage their workforce to get back on track.

I thought this is akin to going to the doctor about a headache and then listing a litany of ailments such as bad knee, ankle, stomach pains, vision issues, back pain, etc. After hearing all of that, where would the doctor begin?

Everyone wants HR to ACT

As I did on Thanksgiving, I listened, used probing questions and I listened some more. Then I mentally made of picture of what I thought would be the top issues. This kept me in a thoughtful mood over the weekend.

I have always operated from the chain reaction theory. If you listen and get the top 1, 2 or 3 issues right, the vast majority of the others will fall into place.

HR, please listen, then listen some more and ACT. Everyone is looking for our leadership. If we can witness this at informal gatherings, you can just imagine what is going on inside your workplace.

Sam Walton once said, “The key to success is to get out into the store and listen to what the associates have to say. It’s terribly important for everyone to get involved. Our best ideas come from clerks and stockboys.”

Translation: listen to your employees, because they have the answers.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


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