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Ensure a Positive Candidate Experience When Hiring Contingent Talent Remotely

As digitization, coupled with the global pandemic, propels contingent hiring online and with more individuals relying on employer reviewer sites to evaluate businesses, delivering a positive[...]

March 10, 2021

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The Face of They: Understanding Employee Perception

Who are you? This existential question has plagued humans since the dawn of time. We like to think we know ourselves quite well; we’ve been living in our own skin for some time, after all. But if you’ve ever had the experience of someone describing your traits and completely missing the mark, you understand that, sometimes, your version of who you are is radically different from someone else’s. And it’s all because of perception.

Perception is a strange thing. It’s highly subjective and changes easily. The way we perceive the world is defined by our senses; we are given a set of stimuli, and as we process that data, we create our own interpretations of what it means to us. One person might hear a dog barking and think “danger!” while another might think “pet!” Yet, the individual’s perception can be changed simply by adding additional data to the mix, like a child laughing or a “beware of dog” sign. Perception is what we use to navigate the world around us – and it also plays a big part in how we work.

Employee Engagement Starts with Employee Perception

On the surface, it’s obvious that perception influences us at work. If you believe your boss to be a jerk, you’re obviously not going to like your job very much. But it actually goes a lot deeper than that. Employee engagement is shaped by their perception of managers, other employees, and even the brand itself. An employee’s perception of management is further influenced by their position and their involvement in decision-making. To quote from a recent study by Project Management Institute:

“In every organization, there is a mysterious group of people generally referred to as they. They are the people who make the decisions. They are the ones who, it is assumed, show up for work every day with the main goal of making life difficult for rank and file employees. They are the people who set unrealistic sales and profitability objectives, who insist on project completion dates that could not possibly be met, and who decide to change the food in the company cafeteria or the parking rules without notice.”

The study looked at how employees perceive the they and how it affects their perception of decision-making. It uncovered some interesting research results:

  • Employees become more or less engaged depending on how much they believe in the company’s priorities. But it’s who sets these priorities that actually determines engagement. If employees believe that they are responsible for the priorities without employee involvement, engagement is reduced.
  • Employees are more likely to fulfill job tasks that they voluntarily committed to. They are less likely to fulfill commitments that were assigned by they.
  • Empowerment efforts are often in vain, as employee involvement is not always at a level that has meaningful influence on company objectives and strategies. Oddly enough, employers still believed they were empowering their employees, even when the employees felt that they had little influence over decision-making.
  • Empowerment efforts that are more closely aligned with an employee’s workgroup or level have a better chance of increasing engagement. This is because the employee perceives the work as being more meaningful and their decisions as more influential, which also decreases the perception that they make all the decisions.

Why is all of this important? Well, because they are people. When employees perceive managers and supervisors as some far-out-of-reach entity, it sucks the context out of their work. It promotes the thought of “my decisions have no influence anyway, so what’s the point?” And that’s not just detrimental to employee engagement – it’s bad for business.

Removing the Veil and Reshaping Employee Perception

Recently, I wrote an article about the importance of accountability in 2018. The world is in a state of social and political unrest. Corporations hold a tremendous amount of power to affect change, yet they remain veiled. Employees who feel that they have little influence over company decisions fall into a hole of non-accountability. It’s easier to sit back and let the they make all the important decisions when you’ve been conditioned to perceive company leaders as a single entity. It’s time to reveal the wizard behind the curtain. It’s time that corporate leaders change the perception of they and start involving employees in real and meaningful ways. Here are a few ideas:

As always, communication reigns supreme. One simple miscommunication can significantly alter employee perception. It’s critical that managers learn to communicate with employees clearly and effectively about objectives. Ensure that employees fully understand the company’s mission, goals, and values, in addition to how they can contribute to that vision. Likewise, employees who understand their manager’s roles tend to be more empathetic, and thus more motivated to fulfill objectives.

Don’t be afraid to ask employees how they see management. Polling for public perception has been a big thing this year. While you might not be polling on such a grand scale as Zuckerberg’s latest endeavor, you can acquire a lot of useful information from simply asking employees what they think of upper-level management, and how they think management roles function within the company. This is an excellent starting point for identifying and repairing errors in employee perception.

Engage and empower employees in the right ways. It’s all too common to see engagement initiatives that are arbitrary or have ulterior motives. Engagement opportunities should focus on making employees’ lives better, not boosting productivity and getting more for your money - those are natural byproducts of happy and motivated employees. Similarly, don’t provide empowerment opportunities just for the sake of providing them. They should be well thought out, and employee decisions should hold real weight. Curate opportunities based on employee expertise, and clearly demonstrate how their involvement can affect the company.

Redefine management values if necessary. You might want to take a page from Ben Dorer’s book. Dorer is the CEO of the Clorox Company, and was the top selection in Glassdoor’s Highest-Rated CEO’s of 2017. His management model focuses on excellence in communication across all levels of the enterprise, sharing vision, strategy, direction, and goals. The culture enforces transparency and accountability. Leadership values the perspectives of talent and includes them in company decisions. Overall, the organization’s leaders promote a growth culture and an environment that’s conducive to learning, skills development, mentorship, and team orientation.

See and be Seen if You Want to be an Effective Leader

Employee engagement means nothing if you don’t first understand employee perception. It doesn’t matter if you have a robust wellness plan or a slew of incentive programs - if employees see management as they, the emotional disconnect will be difficult to overcome. Change needs to start at that fundamental level of how your employees perceive company values, missions, and leaders. Only then can employees truly become engaged.


Sunil Bagai
Sunil Bagai
Sunil is a Silicon Valley thought leader, speaker, motivator, and the visionary behind the groundbreaking Crowdstaffing ecosystem. Blending vision, technology, and business skills, he is transforming the talent acquisition landscape and the very nature of work. Prior to launching Crowdstaffing, Sunil honed his skills and experience as a business leader for companies such as IBM, EMC, and Symantec. "We need to think exponentially to mindfully architect the future of humanity, civilization, and work. When we collaborate and work together, everyone prospers."
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