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The One-on-One Meeting: Empowering Employee Engagement


9 min read

June 12th, 2024

finance podcast for businesses

As everyone remembers, the pandemic shifted the way workplaces needed to function. We moved out of the office and into our homes to work remotely.

Key Takeaways

  • Fears and Challenges: Employers fear that remote work will negatively impact productivity and engagement while employees have enjoyed the ability to have a healthier work-life balance where they don't have to waste time on a stressful commute or...

  • How to Increase Productivity: First, she emphasizes the importance of setting expectations upfront. In order to do their jobs successfully and be productive, employees must know what is expected of them…

  • You Can Continue Success: When you realize that your people are your most precious asset - and not an overhead expense - you can begin to invest in them in smart ways that generate an ROI…

Once the chaos settled and the world began returning to normal, many business leaders expected that they and their employees would return to the office resuming previous operations. However, with the remote work model proven and a better work-life balance achieved, employees weren't exactly ready or willing to return to their offices and resume "business as usual." Several years post-pandemic, many businesses are still settling into a new normal.

Jennifer Loftus, a founding partner of Astron Solutions, a human resources and compensation consulting firm based in New York City, joined GrowthForce Founder and CEO Stephen King on Path to Profit to discuss how businesses can leverage their human resources departments to continue to be successful working within the new normal, post-pandemic.

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Remote and Hybrid Work: Fears and Challenges

In their conversation, Loftus explains that the challenge most workplaces are facing today is finding a balance between the employees who are wondering why they have to return to the office after they've proven they can be successful with fully remote work and employers who are pushing for everyone to return to working in the office.

Employers fear that remote work will negatively impact productivity and engagement while employees have enjoyed the ability to have a healthier work-life balance where they don't have to waste time on a stressful commute or worry about letting their dogs out over lunch. What many offices have experienced when attempting to end remote work is that, as King puts it, "employees vote with their feet."

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When asked to return to the office, employees who have been successfully working remotely simply quit, and increased employee turnover is an expensive problem. While estimates from various organizations like the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics vary, the cost of employee turnover is widely agreed to range from about 50-200% of an employee's base pay, with the cost increasing in correlation to the employee's seniority. This is especially true for businesses with knowledge-based workers. When an employee leaves, so does all of their work-related knowledge. Sure, employees can be replaced, but it will cost your company a pretty penny to do so - not to mention the damage that employee attrition does to workplace morale.

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We've got this dynamic happening," she says, "which is influencing employee turnover." To resolve the issue, neither business leaders nor employees can have exactly what they want. A compromise will be necessary. Employers must create and present a compelling value proposition to employees for why they should return to the office, and it needs to be something more than justifying the overhead rent expense. Whether businesses sell office time through building teams, supporting culture, or increasing productivity, there must be a compelling reason to return - and the return to the office won't be justified if those same results can be achieved remotely.

What this dynamic ultimately means is that workers who can do their jobs remotely and be successful will likely never fully return to the office, and that's okay as long as business leadership adapts, using new human resources initiatives to maintain connectivity, workplace culture, employee engagement, and productivity.

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The 1:1 meeting. Listen to the full episode HERE!

Maintaining Your Business's Standards Is Key

With a remote workplace, a workplace that could potentially be spread out around the world, connectivity and communication are the keys to maintaining standards with regard to employee engagement, productivity, and retention.

The 121 Meeting: How to Maintain Employee Engagement

Employee engagement relies heavily on connections that are achieved and maintained through a workplace culture that promotes ongoing connection - a connection between managers and employees, between colleagues, and even between individuals in a business who otherwise wouldn't interact. Employees must feel like their employers and the people in their company care about them.

"If there's only one thing that an organization could do to retain their employees in a hybrid or a fully remote environment," says Lotus, "it's that one-on-one meeting once a week."

Deliberately connecting is one of the most critical things for employers to do in a fully remote or hybrid workplace environment, and Loftus recommends scheduling 121 (one-on-one) meetings at least once a week for each employee. These meetings should be used to connect with each other on a deep level, check in personally, listen, ask questions, and discuss goals. Let the time be an opportunity for coaching and for your employees to speak and be heard.

Focus on the Results: How to Increase Productivity

One of the biggest worries of business owners regarding hybrid work is the potential for productivity to lag. According to Loftus, there are a couple of powerful tactics that employers can use to prevent lagging productivity: expectations and incentives.

First, she emphasizes the importance of setting expectations upfront. In order to do their jobs successfully and be productive, employees must know what is expected of them and have this communicated to them clearly from the start.

The second key to maintaining (and increasing!) productivity is through incentives. When an employee's pay is directly correlated to their productivity, they are going to be more productive because it gives them ownership in the business's success. The more successful the company is, the more successful the contributing employee is, too.

Loftus describes an example of a hospital that successfully used incentives to decrease their days sales outstanding (DSO) metric on their receivables. It was at a dismal 110 days, and they estimated that every day they weren't getting paid was costing their organization millions. So, they worked with their receivables team to develop an incentive program that rewarded them for collecting more efficiently while maintaining good customer service. At the end of the incentive program, their DSO number had dropped to 73 days. Since the hospital was losing money when they weren't getting paid, they could afford to offer incentives based on the results of employee productivity.

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Loftus explains that it's important for employers to understand the difference between incentives and bonuses. Incentives are offered and based on future results that have not yet been achieved, while bonuses come from results that have already happened. With incentives, employees are keenly aware of their role in earning the additional pay. On the other hand, employees who receive a bonus definitely appreciate it, but they do not necessarily understand what they did to earn it.

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How to Increase Employee Retention

The most important metric for service-based businesses or businesses with knowledge workers is employee retention because employee attrition is such an astronomically expensive hidden cost in these types of companies. So, whether your business is working in the office, in a hybrid office, or remotely, you need a plan to keep your employees.

Focusing on employee engagement and productivity can go a long way to strengthen employee retention. Loftus also suggests reframing the way employers think about employee compensation. She calls the concept a company's "total reward philosophy" and explains that the philosophy is comprised of five separate parts:

  1. Cash Pay - Cash pay includes any real money they are paid such as an employee's base pay, bonuses, incentive pay, shift differentials, etc.
  2. Benefits - Benefits include items like health insurance, life insurance, retirement plans, and paid time off.
  3. Work-Life Balance - This element includes less tangible benefits such as offering flexible work hours, a hybrid or remote office, childcare options, mental health support, and support for life changes such as menopause support for women.
  4. Performance Management and Recognition - These employee check-ins provide opportunities for celebrating success or redirecting employees. They can be advertised as opportunities for pay increases or other negotiations.
  5. Career Advancement and Development - This element includes training, ongoing education, mentoring, coaching, even cross-departmental teams, and upward mobility opportunities. It includes anything your business does to help your employees further develop themselves and advance their careers.

Loftus recommends that businesses present their total reward philosophy to employees in quantifiable terms whenever possible. While it's easy to quantify cash pay and benefits, putting a number on the value of items in other categories can be more difficult. You can consider them in terms of average costs for tuition or mental health experts or in terms of time-associated expenses.

Remote, Hybrid, or In-Office: You Can Continue Success

Whether your office is hybrid, remote, or has returned to the building, you can empower employee engagement, fuel productivity, and strengthen employee retention through a few simple steps. Start scheduling 1:1 meetings, be clear about employee expectations, create incentive programs tied to positive results, and reframe the way you think about employee compensation. When you realize that your people are your most precious asset - and not an overhead expense - you can begin to invest in them in smart ways that generate an ROI. Yes, an ROI on labor and human resources. It can be done!

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