The finance manager who finds his team listlessly going through their routines has two options – do nothing or do something. He chooses to tweak their incentive scheme, wins them over for doingsomething for them and wins himself a bonus for efficiency.
An investment banking manager, tired of his apathetic manager, decides to do something for himself, gets one client to support him and becomes an independent investment banker. Today, he has a substantial client list.
In both examples above, the cost or benefit to the organization is possibly too paltry, in the larger scheme of things, to be calculated. But, if one adds up the outcomes of all such events, we arrive at the unholy grail of employee engagement. How does one get an employee to deliver her/his optimum efficiencyto a job?
Employee engagement scholars suggest a plethora of activities to increase/maintain employee engagement which covers almost every aspect of human behaviour – make employees feel safe; create a friendly environment, enable social relationships in the workplace, make work exciting, give employees clear goals, allow them to take initiative and so the list goes on. Be that as it may, considering that there is substantial research that provides evidence of benefits of employee engagement, the real question is WHO is going to do all this? HOW is WHO going to make employees feel safe, socially rich and raring to go to work?
More often than not, this responsibility is given to the human resource management function. So, human resource managers spend a lot of their time thinking up ways to make employees feel psychologically safe, professionally excited and socially rich, in the workplace. They organize themselves in such a way that employees have some people to talk to about irascible supervisors, some people to distribute training and opportunities, some people to organise social events in the workplace and so on. I call these processes of attempting to make employees feel engaged in their work. Most organizations have such processes with varying degrees of organizational involvement. Large multinationals can fund events for employees and give away goodies, medium sized organizations may fund celebrations of festivals and picnics and such while small companies may offer sweets along with the Diwali bonus. The point being that all organizations want engaged employees and are trying various ways within their means to achieve that.
Yet, as per reports in the last couple of years, Indian companies employee the least engaged employees. In other words, greater proportion employees feel no love for their work in India than even in other similarly developed companies.
From personal experience and the collective information gathered from listening to stories from hundreds of colleagues/friends over the years, I believe it is because management of human resources in companies is left to human resource managers!
I was vindicated when, on the first day of teaching human resource management to general management students, I asked, “What, according to you, is human resource management?” Their reply found echoes in surveys done to find reasons for the high rate of attrition in India, in recent times. They said, “Human resource management is what human resource managers do”!
Over the subsequent 9 hours of classroom interaction, I tried to get them around to thinking about human resource management as being something more than only what human resource managers do. Given subsequent reactions, I felt that the gist bears repetition.
Employee engagement, in all its hues, is a situation wherein an employee feels that he/she is enjoying doing the work, has a supervisor who enables his/her work, is with an organization that appreciates the fact that he/she is an optimally productive part of the enterprise. Thus, taken apart, employee engagement refers to the work itself, the context of work and the outcomes of work. Human resource management as a function can enable this by creating systems that enable engagement. Recruitment systems that enable hiring of the right people, compensation systems that are equitable and consistent, development systems that enable and facilitate career advancement and so on. They may even organize social events but, they can hardly be held responsible for the employees’ enjoyment at such events! Similar, while efficiency and functioning of employee-centric systems are absolutely within the purview of human resource management as a function; their successful application is the responsibility of every manager, including human resource managers.
Functional managers who do not communicate, are apathetic to the circumstances of their team members, do not see the need for equitable and consistent operationalization of HRM systems such as performance management, training and career advancement are greater contributors to employee disengagement than the systems themselves.
To conclude, human resource management is precisely what it means literally – managing the people around you. As a manager, it is all that much more to realise this because in that role, one is in a position to facilitate, enable and benefit from those they manage, if they manage to not leave it to the human resource managers!
All views, examples and data are situated in the Indian context.
Article by: Renuka Hodigere
Assistant Professor, Human Resource Management,IIM Calcutta
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