Employee engagement

6 HR Practices that Can Hurt Employee Engagement

George Dickson
August 31, 2015
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As a profession, human resources often plays it safe, with an emphasis on compliance over creativity and innovation. After all, you're not likely to get fired for following best practices. But that's exactly where the problem lies.

Some HR "best practices" actually have a pretty negative effect on employee engagement. 😕 Here are 6 HR best practices that often backfire.


6 practices that can hurt employee engagement

1. Mandatory training and professional development

Training and professional development play an important role in attracting and retaining amazing employees, but it's easy to take it too far in the wrong direction.

Requiring specific training across the board without regard to each employee's existing skills and interests can disengage a large portion of your team. It may look good on paper to have all of your employees complete specific training and development courses—but unless it's a mandatory certification by law, it may not need to be mandatory at work.

Some employees may be excited attend a specific training class, while others will deem it not the best use of their time. By requiring specific training and development without employee input, you'll waste time and money—and you'll likely drive away some of your best employees.

Giving employees the autonomy to choose their own developmental path is important.

When employees are empowered to develop and use the skills they're most interested in, it often improves their outlook regarding the work they do. That improved outlook often increases productivity and the likelihood of long-term employee retention.

2. Buzzword-stuffed job descriptions

You've written a detailed job description loaded with keywords to ensure your recruiting ads are discovered by the right people. While it's important to optimize listings for visibility and catch the interest of prospective candidates, overdoing it can lead to a listing doesn't represent reality. 🦄 🌈

Many new hires leave quickly because the work is different from what they expected.

If employees (and perhaps even their immediate supervisors) are not clear on what they are expected to deliver, how can they excel in delivering it? This disconnect between stated and actual requirements can lead to frustration, apathy, and a lack of focus.

Be consistent and clear about the expectations and requirements associated with a position. It may not sound as exciting on paper, but it will have a better chance of attracting a qualified candidate whose skills and interests are genuinely aligned with the role.

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3. Quantitative performance analysis

We're all for working efficiently, but there comes a point where you can focus too heavily on activities rather than value, simply because it's much easier to measure things quantitatively. For example, if 90% of your employees have earned a desirable certification, or produced 30% more widgets, your department would look pretty good, right?

But how are those certifications or increased volume translating into value? Are your certified employees able to command higher rates for business services? Are your employees more productive as a result of the training? Are those extra widgets of equal or greater quality, or do you just have a larger number of lower quality widgets?

From an employee's perspective, this focus on efficiency over value can be demoralizing, especially if their contributions are not often recognized. It's similar to rewarding those who put in sufficient face time and perform busywork over those who deliver tremendous value but don't necessarily do it through traditional norms.

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4. Maintaining the status quo

Your employees have proven themselves to be brilliant in their positions, so it makes sense that you'd want to maintain the status quo. Unfortunately, without a change of position, talent tends to stagnate. The job eventually gets boring and tedious. There's nothing new, and challenges are few. No wonder employees look elsewhere for opportunities.

In contrast, change brings new challenges and opportunities to shine, contribute, and innovate. Suddenly, the job becomes interesting once again! While it's tempting to keep things on cruise control, that's not the path to excellence.

Provide your employees with numerous opportunities to expand their positions or move into new ones.

5. One-sided annual performance reviews

Annual performance reviews have been entrenched as a best practice in the human resources career path for generations, despite their questionable efficacy. But, they're not perfect. A study from 2021 found that 64% of U.S workers received helpful feedback from their eval. Not terrible numbers, but not great. 

Imagine you're a talented employee who regularly innovates at work. Your ideas and contributions move the company toward its goals, and customers know that they can count on you for outstanding service every time. When review time comes around, none of this seems to matter because your performance is being evaluated against a different set of objectives.

You didn't complete enough training hours, and your boss has a long list of negative feedback spanning the entire year. You resent not being informed earlier so you could correct the issue, and the few bits of praise ring hollow when sandwiched in between everything else. You may or may not get a pay increase, but either way, you know it's going to be a full year until your next opportunity.

Traditional performance reviews are on their way out, making way for more modern and effective approaches like performance management.

Frequent, positive feedback and recognition are great ways to show employees which contributions you value most. It costs nothing to genuinely thank employees for their contributions—and it makes them feel valued at work.

Extending this approach to a formal peer-to-peer employee recognition program adds additional benefits, like supporting the cultivation of positive relationships.

The takeaway

While it's tempting to play it safe with traditional HR best practices, it's important to question what makes them best practices, and how well those reasons actually fit your organization. Think about some of the processes you follow right now, and consider why you follow them. You might determine there's a better practice you're missing out on.

Ready to take the next step in building stronger engagement? Check out 10 Data-Driven Ways to Improve Employee Engagement.

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