Six New Year's Resolutions for Employers

Businesswoman yawning
Businesswoman yawning

I'm not very good at New Year's resolutions. It's never made sense to me to pick an arbitrary date and pretend I'm going to start doing something -- or everything -- differently from that point on. Any gym owner can tell you how the weight room and spin classes swell each January, only to return to near-empty by March. Resolutions rarely effect any permanent change.

Nonetheless, a little wishful thinking never hurt anyone. So this year I've written some resolutions. The twist is, they're not for me. They're for employers. Specifically, they're for all those employers out there who haven't yet figured out that work doesn't always have to be drudgery, that turnover doesn't always have to be sky-high, and that it's not only possible for a more humane work environment to co-exist with profits, it's probable.

Let's start small: here are my six resolutions for employers. Who knows? Some of these might be even easier to stick to than getting to the gym!

Stop treating employees like children. Presumably you hired your employees because you knew they could do the job. Stop dictating how, where, and when they go about doing it. I'm not talking just about "knowledge workers." Service and manufacturing workers are on the front-lines -- they may well have ideas about how to do things better. And there should be no reason they can't have a say in their own scheduling, as well.

Stop treating employees like they don't have children. Or parents. Or other responsibilities outside of the workplace. Remember that fewer and fewer employees have someone at home taking care of home and family. Don't just give lip service to this fact, or throw in a pre-fab program or policy. Ask your employees what they need. Ask what they think would work. Changes don't have to be expensive. Just a modicum of true flexibility can make a huge difference.

Start welcoming employees for who they are. Hiring employees from diverse backgrounds is helpful, but it won't do much good if those employees feel pressure to conform to a cultural norm. Or if they find that their ideas are being ignored, either consciously or unconsciously, or that they're being overlooked for promotions. Take a hard look at what it takes to succeed in your organization, and make sure it really is about talent and skills.

Start communicating. Go ahead, tell employees what's going on -- the good, the bad and the uncertain. Anything is better than the rumor mill. Get some active communications vehicles going so employees know where to turn for information. Consider building support and camaraderie -- and generating ideas -- by letting employees share information themselves with an internal social media platform.

Start inviting employees in -- let them share in the mission. This isn't about posting your mission statement on the walls, or handing it out on desk tchotchkes. This is about making sure each employee understands the specific role he or she plays in making that mission happen. At the Mayo Clinic, where a member of the hospital housekeeping staff once described her job as saving lives (by keeping rooms sanitized), employees interviewed for a study said they were better employees there than at other places they had worked--because they didn't want to be the person who let the clinic down.

Start putting your employees first. It's all very well to say the customer is always right, but if you don't treat your employees well, why should they treat anyone else well? Here's how Eric Chester puts it, in his latest book: "Today, great companies recognize that the employee is number one. When an organization's people are prioritized, appreciated, and looked after with the same great care and concern once reserved for the organization's best customers, then and only then will the organization's employees take truly great care of their customers."

If none of this is convincing enough, think of it this way: Your employees may take New Year's resolutions more seriously than I do. How many of them do you think might have "start looking for a new job" on their list for 2016? How great would it be if they gave up on this resolution not from lack of will power, but from lack of will -- if 2016 turned out to be the year they started to love their current job?

Robin Hardman is a writer and work-life expert who works with companies to put together the best possible "great place to work" competition entries and creates compelling, easy-to-read benefits, HR, diversity and general-topic employee communications. Find her at www.robinhardman.com.