Your employees are your company’s biggest asset. They can also be its biggest threat. This may sound like a hyperbole but where there are people, there are risks.
Employees represent the biggest risk to cyber security too. Their health and welfare have a direct impact on productivity and workplace harmony. And any inappropriate behaviour towards each another (or a client) could land the company with a costly lawsuit. This, of course, extends to leadership as well.
These threats are all relatively new on the business horizon, and companies get tripped up by them every day. But you can mitigate such risks by implementing the following workplace policies.
1. Educate your staff
The days when racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and bullying went unchecked at workplaces are long gone. Prominent movements like #MeToo and #WordsAtWork have scored some high-profile victories in the battle for equality and mutual respect, and businesses have had to get on board fast or suffer the consequences.
Most companies now have four generations working simultaneously, which can bring in a wide variation of attitudes, especially towards acceptable language. Older workers may be taken aback by retorts at throwing endearment tags such as ‘sweetheart’ or ‘darling’ towards a female colleague; younger workers may be unaware of the offence caused by using expletives.
Something quotidian and innocuous considered by one employee may well escalate into a lawsuit. So there is a real need for companies to have a behaviour policy in place and to educate their employees accordingly.
How to help employees be mindful of their behaviour
Make sure you have a clear policy on appropriate language and behaviour – one that adheres to best practices. It should aim to ensure that all employees are treated fairly and equally, and that the management understands how to treat employees in a non-discriminatory manner.
Execute a training programme that mentors language and behaviour policy. Cite cases of inappropriate conduct to help illustrate the point. Any definition of wrongful employment should be broad enough to include allegations of racial or sexual discrimination.
2. Combat mental health issues head-on
In Europe, Middle East and Africa, 29 per cent of employees report having suffered severe stress, anxiety or depression within the last two years, according to a 2017 Willis Towers Watson study that polled over 31,000 employees worldwide. Employee mental health issues breed absenteeism, lost productivity, higher staff turnover, and increased compensation claims. Leaving them unaddressed, therefore, poses a big risk.
While some companies are introducing initiatives to help employees take care of their mental health, the general response to this threat is still inadequate. According to the same survey, only half of employers run any sort of stress management programme.
How to help encourage mental health awareness
HR departments should take a two-pronged approach to employee mental health.
On an organisational level, you need a programme to educate employees on the signs and symptoms of mental health problems. To help them tackle these issues, you should offer resilience training and mentoring schemes.
On an individual level, provide conflict management training and redesign job roles if necessary to limit sources of stress.
3. Operate true openness and transparency
Most companies have an open-door and fairness policy. But how many truly enforce it?
According to a 2016 Willis Towers Watson study, just 55 per cent of employers reported a formal process to limit bias or inconsistency in performance reviews.
Most companies start out with good intentions but end up finding it tough to enforce complete transparency or recognise their shortcomings. Lack of fairness or transparency are issues that employees tend to notice before employers.
Fairness is a growing expectation among workers as it breeds trust and ensures there are no barriers between them and the management. So it’s important to enforce such policies and keep checking on them. If a company remains milky with its employees about such polices, this can prompt a few to turn to less reliable sources for information. Misinformation breeds potential misunderstandings and drives risky or demotivated behaviour.
How to implement a fair and transparent working environment
Start by making sure your compensation policy supports your company culture and strategy. For starters, employees should know how their base pay and bonuses are determined. Compensation software can help you achieve this as it assists employers in comparing roles across regions, aiding decisions that are based on fairness. Train managers to ensure they are fully aware of relevant company policies.
4. Lead by example
Everything I’ve talked about thus far falls under the ambit of ‘company culture’. Without an ethical and compliant culture, organisations will always be at risk.
But just having corporate values isn’t enough: leaders need to lead by example and show all that principles apply across the board. If the senior members of the team fail to practice what they preach, it wouldn’t be viable to expect anyone else to.
How leading by example brings results
Alongside other goals/gauges, such as finance and sales, make adherence to company culture one of the leaders’ KPIs, encouraging them to incorporate behavioural leadership into their day-to-day work.
Maintain a positive culture
Employee management is instrumental whether they prove to be an asset or threat. Engage and educate them in the expected behavioural standards of a modern workplace.
This will make them feel valued, cared for, and clear about their own responsibilities.
Leaving it to chance is no longer an option.
M. Rajendran is the deputy managing director- Middle East and CEO for UAE, Al Futtaim Willis