November 20, 2012 | Leadership, Workplace Culture + Practices

I recently spoke at a business school class at The University of Vermont on the topic of employee relations. The students sat dutifully listening, but I’m not sure they really understood how critical a role “employee relations” plays in the workplace. I framed my presentation around the importance of “people, people, people” and an employer’s quest to find the answer to the $25,000,000 question: What matters to my employees and how can I retain them in my organization?

Solving this conundrum includes so many areas of human behavior and attitude:  engagement, communication, interaction, conduct, culture, career development, recognition, compensation along with many other areas. Getting to the end point successfully with high job satisfaction, happiness and retention is no easy task.

At NRG Systems, we recently held a company-wide training for our entire workforce. Oh no (you are probably thinking), not one of those mandatory trainings to see if everyone is getting along! On the contrary, this particular training engaged every member of our workplace in one way or another – we specifically learned about the importance and the useful place in a work setting for intentions, trust, happiness, needs, disclosure, interactions, and communication.  In fact, it was brilliant medicine to feed a wounded soul. Let me elaborate a bit.

The human toll of industry uncertainty

This has been a rough year for our company—and the renewable energy industry in general. Like many other companies in the wind energy industry, we had to make the difficult decision to reduce our workforce earlier this year. After 30 years in business, this was the first time our company had to take such action.

Certainly, the range of emotions has played out over the past few months:  anger, denial, sadness, fear. Having built, and been recognized for being, a great place to work, our tight-knit family suddenly was greatly impacted.

Despite the turmoil and stress, I will say that we have survived and are in the process of rebuilding a new and dynamic culture and workplace, which brings me back to feelings.

The recent training I mentioned was conducted by Rick Foster, an international research expert and acclaimed author on happiness and health. The timing for this training was perfect, and the number of gems that resulted could fill a two-inch binder. Here are some to consider:

1. Set your intentions instead of goals.  Goals are S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely). Intentions are the “why of the what,” or a statement of how we choose to behave in a situation. For example, an intention sounds like this: “I intend to be open and honest today when talking with employees, and ensure good listening skills.” A goal sounds like this: “I plan to meet with Joe and Sally today.”

2. Affect levels of trust by applying the Trust Formula. Consider the number of daily interactions that take place in your workplace, evaluate how flexible those interactions are, and whether they exhibit full disclosure. Assume then that those three important steps are evaluated under a veil of good intentions, which take place over time. This is how trust can be positively impacted.

3. Appreciate one another.  In the Society for Human Resource Management’s recent job satisfaction survey, they cite the importance of employee recognition. Rick Foster describes an appreciative act as a shot of oxytocin throughout your body. Appreciating your work colleagues simply makes everyone feel better.

One of the things I like about working at NRG Systems is that we allow ourselves time and space to focus on, and ask questions about, matters like employee relations. Our people are one of our priorities, and I feel confident in saying that we intend to listen and engage, focus on trust, appreciate each other, and rebuild our vibrant culture.

Are you intentional about employee relations at your company?