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Seize the chance to build a better workplace

By Joel Capperella
June 21, 2010 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - The Great Recession left in its wake scores of vastly overworked employees with severely reduced benefits and dramatically decreased career opportunities. But while rebuilding will require plenty of hard work, there's also a silver lining.

The downside is quite clear: Those who plan, build and manage any aspect of the workforce will have to be more creative and work harder to ensure high employee satisfaction.

Ironically, the good news is perhaps the very same statement. Organizations have the opportunity to seize the moment and establish best practices that increase employee loyalty and satisfaction, which invariably results in higher-quality work and increased productivity.

Where to begin? Start by assessing the employment reality of the organization. Have choice benefits been scaled back or completely eliminated? Have reward programs been watered down? Is the workload per employee greater today because of necessary reductions in force? Is the project load beginning to escalate?

Are there plans to reinstate some of the juicier perks, or will lean and mean remain the way the firm operates moving forward? Frank analysis is called for here. Unsubstantiated optimism inevitably creates a chasm between management and staff at all levels -- a one-way street to being left off any list of the best places to work.

Once you've established a realistic employment portrait, communicate it to your workforce with candor -- the good, the bad and the ugly. While sharing the challenges in stark terms might seem counterintuitive, the workforce will appreciate the honesty. There are two important aspects to the disclosure process.

First, the discussion should involve all segments of the workforce, including contractors. (Be sure to exercise caution when discussing internal matters in the presence of nonemployees, who might also be working for potential competitors.) Second, be prepared to present employees with a forward-looking plan that will address any changes that might be in the pipeline.

A policy of full disclosure sets the organization on a path to increased employee engagement. Have a well-defined method in place for tapping into the value of the employee knowledge base. Define problems that exist or obstacles that are in the way of meeting critical business objectives.

Engage the workforce to help solve these challenges, and publicly recognize those employees who present viable solutions. It not only increases accountability, but also genuinely elevates employees' perceptions of their roles and contributions to the company. And e-mail shouldn't be the only method of communication within the organization. Be sure to use social and real-time media, as your employees already do.

Ironically, the speed, volume and sterile nature of digital communications can actually foster a sense of community, graciousness and cooperation among participants. Organizations should capitalize on those tools to establish connections and increase transparency across the workforce.

As employers have cut benefits and other perks, the other aspects of their relationships with employees have become that much more important. Strengthening employee interactions and increasing candidness with your workforce will help establish a sense of engagement and loyalty. It will ensure that the organization remains, in the employees' eyes, a great place to work.

Joel Capperella is senior vice president of client solutions at Yoh, a talent provider. Visit www.yoh.com or http://blog.yoh.com.

Want to nominate an organization for the 2011 Best Places to Work in IT? Fill out this short form! Deadline for nominations is Dec. 31, 2010.

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