The Hidden Employee – What We Learned from Last Night

Paul Hebert Culture, Employee Engagement, Engagement and Satisfaction, Good HR, HR, Organizational Development, Paul Hebert

I had a post locked and loaded for today but after listening to the pundits on a variety of channels discuss the surprise outcome of the Presidential election I thought it might be more apropos to talk about something that each and every person who is responsible for employees, either as an HR pro or a manager, needs to be aware of. But let me say this first, this post has zero to do with my or anyone’s choice of candidate, and second, the outcome is what it is – adults move on. Let’s not jump into an abyss with no exit.

As we know, last night the pundits were shocked and the prognosticators were blown away. The outcome was almost “impossible.” And many experts suggested it was due to something they called a “hidden” voter. The “hidden” voters were business owners who were afraid of publicly voicing their choice of candidate for fear of reprisals and negative press hurting their business success. The “hidden” voter was your neighbor who didn’t want to sit through your tongue lashing and judgmental discussions around candidate choice. Now, I don’t know if this is exactly the reason for the surprise outcome but the idea that there is a “hidden” voter – one not captured in the normal process – is probably spot on.

And that brings me to the issue for managers and HR pros.

There are hidden employees too.

Vocal Does Not Equal Valid

Too often our employee engagement surveys, our satisfaction surveys, our pulse surveys simply present us with the data that our employees feel comfortable sharing. While “directionally” it can be helpful – it can also be very flawed. Just like the idea that many voters didn’t want to publicly discuss their political affiliation – many employees don’t really want to discuss THEIR issues and problems with management.

I know what you’re thinking. My surveys are anonymous. Anonymity is supposed to protect employees and give them the confidence to reply to survey questions honestly. But does it? Really? I wonder. In fact, we posted right here on FOT that maybe we don’t need anonymity in our surveys. Based on the outcome of this election anonymity may actually give us false confidence that we are actually getting valid information when in fact we are only getting information the majority feels comfortable sharing.

Digging Deeper

But if there is a large “hidden” employee contingent in your company, and with them, hidden needs, thoughts, ideas, desires, problems, how do we move forward as managers and HR pros? How do we find our “hidden” employees.

By building trust – one employee at a time.

Ex-Speaker of the House is credited with saying “All politics is local” meaning all issues – country (and company) – are really driven by the individual’s concerns at a personal level. Solving for, and connecting with, individuals in a way that directly addresses THEIR issues is the only way to find and connect with your hidden employees and the things that keep them from fully engaging and performing.

For HR pros this means training and enabling your manager class in your company. Make sure they know how to do their job – not the functional output part – the human being connecting part.

As a manager it means taking time to talk one-on-one with your reports. And don’t just focus on “goals” and “objectives” – get down and get personal. Find out what makes them tick and what gets them energized.

Use this election outcome as a learning experience. Ensure your employee surveys and outreach find a way to surface hidden employees’ needs. Don’t assume vocal is the same as valid. Train your managers.

No one wants to wake up to a surprise reality.

Well… almost no one.