Employee Snow Storms

Yes, this is really me in Steamboat, CO!

Yes, this is really me in Steamboat, CO!

With the new year beginning, I started thinking about what the year might hold for the workplace and employees.  Well, I’ll be honest; I was really thinking about snow and skiing.  Those two are at least fun —  I know,  I know.  Unless you have to get on the roof with the hairdryer to de-ice the gutters before the second storm hits and the snow wrecks the house (true story).   Been there, done that.  Sunny Florida beckoned.  I went.  Still miss snow, though.

But it did get me thinking about employees and their needs.  There’s this old adage that says, red sky at night, sailors’ delight; red sky at morning sailors take warning.  Meteorologists and sailors alike know that a red dawn means high water content from an approaching low pressure system.  Simply put, a [snow] storm is brewing.

Well, we have a red dawn coming.  Employers have enjoyed loyalty from their workforce, especially with the down economy.  While 2010 may still be a downer, things seem to be looking up job-wise, which means that employees will soon be on the move again.  There’s a tempest coming and with it new work ethics, attitudes and priorities.  It’s the perfect storm.

But, in spite of record unemployment, a dismal economy, and Gen Y entering the workforce, employees still have the same expectations they always did.  Spherion points out in its 2009 Emerging Workforce Study that despite the significant change workers have witnessed over the past few years, there is surprisingly little change in how they perceive the employment relationship.  While people may stay at an organization because the current economy demands they do so, holding a job and being motivated in that position are two vastly different things. 

So, how can organizations prepare for the stormy employer-employee relationship in 2010?  Three things: 1) concentrate on the social-emotional connection, 2) offer developmental opportunities that link to the organizational mission, and 3) take advantage of social media.

          Focus on the social-emotional connection.  One of the greatest causes of misery for employees is the feeling that the organization they work for isn’t interested in who they are and what goes on in their lives.  Combat this by training supervisors in social-emotional intelligence.  No matter what the business climate, the generation of the worker, or the technology available, all people want to feel important.  The Hawthorne Studies of 1924 found that if managers paid more attention and cared about employees, it raised morale and increased productivity.  That still holds true today: a recent worldwide engagement study that found that organizations with the highest percent of motivated employees increased income 19% and earnings per share 28%.  Creating the social-emotional connection also means that basic HR programs have to be in place to meet employee needs.  This includes having a decent compensation and benefits package, providing accommodations for the disabled; offering flexible work arrangements, establishing special-interest networks, and presenting good career prospects.

          Provide developmental opportunities that link to the organization’s mission and vision.  The “perfect storm” of the emerging employment contract implies that there will never be job security, that employment will be contingent on added value, and that workers have the right to demand the freedom and resources to do their jobs well.  So, if workers are to add value, help them by providing ample opportunity to improve skills and capabilities.  There are many ways to do this such as through education and training, job enrichment or enlargement, coaching and feedback.

          Take advantage of social media.  Social media is the new way of connecting and tech-savvy workers are using it to keep in touch with friends and family, share information, surf for a new job, and provide opinions on their work and their workplace.  Social media is a virtual conversation and because of this, business is now a virtual conversation.  With the advent of social media, an organization’s brand or reputation can be literally one comment away from disaster – from a Twitter blurb, Facebook post or Epinions review.  Someone out there is talking about the organization and they can say whatever it is they want.  What you can do though, is help manage the conversation.

Managing the conversation however, does not mean telling employees what to say.  It means creating an authentic atmosphere where people can initiate a conversation.  In the era of business transparency, empowering people to tell the truth can be risky, but also rewarding.  Think about how your organization can use social media to its advantage.  Introduce rules of engagement for employees and encourage them participate with an understanding of those rules.  Use social connections to share information about the company – create organization Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, or company wikis and blogs where people can share information, celebrate accomplishments, trade opinions. If something bad pops up, have a person in the organization accountable for responding to it appropriately.  Just keep the conversation going.

While workers may be staying in their respective jobs due to the economy, if the relationship is not a strong one – or is abused – when the storm is over, employees will leave for greener pastures.  Whether it’s today or tomorrow, organizations that invest in their people will find that their people will invest in them.



  1. I totally agree with all of your wisdom! Employers need to be on point with their employees’ needs in all areas as we enter into “recovery” mode and organizations poise themselves to hire in the mid to latter part of 2010. Moral is really down due to internal and external factors in many organizations and people are just waiting for that “out” to happen for them. For employers, they need to use a few tips from your latest list, and for employees, they need to re-engage and see how they can add-value if the are feeling stagnant. It is quite possible to use this crisis as an opportunity to re-invent themselves in their current jobs. Any tips there? Thanks for conversation! P.S. The Colorado trip looked incredible!

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