All Business Is Personal: Employees Need Human Connections at Work

Employee engagement starts with meaningful relationships. Companies that don't support those interactions will see productivity tank as their best talent walks.

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By Harry West

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Everyone wants to be treated with respect, whether that's in a professional context or within the realm of personal relationships. So it should come as no surprise that workers -- contract, freelance, full-time, part-time -- want to feel appreciated for the skills they bring to the job. They also are more productive when they hear phrases such as "thank you," "you're an important part of the team" and "we couldn't have done it without you!" It's such a simple thing, yet too many companies neglect these easy-to-implement interactions between managers and employees.

According to a recent survey conducted by Appirio, 47 percent of workers are less than fully engaged in their current jobs. The same survey reveals that bonuses and extravagant compensations aren't enough to keep your workforce productive. As it turns out, top talent is looking for more: a human connection with employers and colleagues.

Related: 5 Powerful Ways to Give Thanks to Your People

Many 9-to-5 jobs aren't designed around human needs.

The desire for a human connection at work isn't new concept. "Generation X," published in 1991, popularized the idea of the "McJob." The book described a typical cubicle -- the staple work environment of the then-emerging service economy -- as a "veal-fattening pen."

This visual accurately describes many employees' feelings even today. It's a powerful lamp to shine light on the inhumane nature of a 9-to-5 work environment that requires people to sit in a gray box between the hours they clock in and out. In truth, this model was designed and approved by executives who see workers as numbers. To them, each minute an employee spends at a desk converts into dollars.

The problem with this scenario is that time spent toiling on a project isn't necessarily a representation of the quality or efficiency of work. Out-of-touch executives don't realize that engaged employees can create better work at a faster rate than those who watch the clock.

Related: Is Poor Employee Engagement Management's Fault?

Technology makes workers more mobile.

While the need for human connection has been an overlooked problem for some time, technology brings heightened awareness to the topic. Through strength in numbers and access to smart devices, new generations are demanding more from their employers. Today's employees use Glassdoor to broadcast unfair treatment from an employer. They seek better job opportunities through LinkedIn and leverage the platform to sell their skills to companies with favorable employee reviews. Then, they use the site to quickly and easily find the right professional connections and make a career match.

Meanwhile, most companies continue to use outdated tools and processes for everything from human resources and finance to procurement and payroll services. This causes a disconnect that costs real time and money. The longer businesses wait to modernize, the harder it will be for them to stay relevant and competitive. When it comes to the ever-changing needs of workers and customers, executive-leadership teams can't afford to be inattentive.

Related: 4 Innovative Mobile Apps That Will Make Your Business Processes More Efficient

Employees deserve the same consideration as clients.

Job seekers have more power than ever before, and they won't wait on companies that can't -- or won't -- catch up. Many companies are starting to talk about employee engagement, but most still think it's solely a human-resources issue. It's not.

Engaging a workforce is a company-wide effort that must start at the top for any real change to occur. Digital initiatives already have revolutionalized how companies interact with external stakeholders. They'd do well to apply the same techniques in their relationships with internal stakeholders.

Considering the myriad ways our work lives have changed over the past decade or so, the timing is right (if not overdue) for drastic adjustments in how company leaders relate to workers. We spend more hours on the job than ever before. After hours, digital tools challenge our work-life balance by keeping us hyper-connected.

Related: This Is What Happens When Employees Find Meaning at Work

It's critical for employers to consider how they can show appreciation for workers' contributions on a daily basis. That starts in part by respecting team members' time and effort. Because in this market, there's nothing at all to keep good talent from leaving if they don't feel valued. Technology has opened up entirely new opportunities for workers to make rapid, strategic moves. Employers must bring more to the table than a competitive compensation and benefits package.

Harry West

Vice President of Services Product Management, Appirio

Harry West is the Vice President of Services Product Management at Appirio, a professional services firm based in Indianapolis. Harry focuses on defining and delivering new offerings that allow Appirio to blend traditional consulting as well as Crowdsourcing to create breakthrough results for clients seeking a better way of enabling world-class worker and customer experiences.

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