Implementing Regulatory Change In Ways that Engage Employees

Companies in the pursuit of two seemingly unrelated and legitimate goals often find themselves at cross-purposes.  One example is when creating a culture of engagement clashes with the need for regulatory compliance.  How can you implement regulatory change in ways that engage employees?

Successfully managing organization change relies on engaging team members and employees in ways that allow them to work with purpose, buy-in and energy.  Safety, human rights, and environmental protection is also important – and regulatory compliance ensures these for all stakeholders. However, sometimes following certain—often legislated—rules creates barriers to engagement.

Unintentional Worker Engagement Consequences

The Department of Labor has many regulations to protect employees. These regulations address sexual harassment, discrimination, and employees’ rights around compensation and working conditions.  They are legitimate guidelines that exist for good reason.  However, sometimes these regulations inadvertently undermine the worker engagement that organizations need and want.

For example, many workers value flexibility in the workplace.  They appreciate setting their own hours, working from home, opting in and out of employee benefits, and more. Flexibility and choice are extremely powerful incentives that boost worker satisfaction and engagement.  Even within these confines, organizations have options to provide workers. However, some employment laws and regulations limit options for workers.  Organizations in turn make policy or programmatic decisions that limit worker choice and subtly undermine the engagement that drives performance.

Balancing Requirements and Engagement

The gig economy – where workers move between projects to work within their interests – is a hot topic.  However, laws make it difficult to hire gig workers outside of full-time employment.  This is true even though workers themselves prefer to maintain independent or freelance status.

Safety is another area where regulation can become restrictive enough to hamper people’s ability to do their job. An example of this is not having the proper safety permits to begin a project, and workers feeling they wasted the whole day sitting around in the truck. These experiences significantly dampen employee enthusiasm for their job and their organization.

Planning makes it possible to balance regulatory demands and engage employees.  One solution is that organizations or workers can speak up about engagement implications during consideration of the implementation of regulations. However, tension may still exist. Some organizations tackle this tension by positively addressing two areas.   One area is in the process of setting internal regulations/policies.  The other is in how organizations communicate regulations and policies to people.

Setting Policy With Engagement in Mind

Setting a policy within your organization risks either enabling or disabling worker engagement. Even a policy that makes good business sense or encourages a greater societal good can affect worker mindset and engagement.

Recently, a client took an auditors’ advice to implement a new approval process addressing risk management.  Unfortunately, some people in the organization interpret the policy to mean “we don’t trust you.”   The new process affects employees and workers because they feel they aren’t trusted.

What can be done before implementing a policy to prevent the unintended, but demotivating signal from being sent to employees?

  • Could the new policy be introduced to employees in terms of the underlying value of why appropriate risk management is in the best interest of people, including themselves?
  • Could the organization think more holistically about the message it might signal to employees when the policy is implemented?

Thinking about these questions in advance might change the communication or even the implementation of the policy.

I have witnessed this approach in action, and it works beautifully. I know a client who, whenever making changes to better adhere to safety regulations, clearly communicates it is because they care about people’s safety. They are not doing it just to comply with laws or regulations. Instead, they couch it in terms of the human value that the legislation addresses. The result is a very positive way to engage employees around the issue.

Creating a Culture To Engage Employees

It’s really easy to make decisions with the best interests of the company in mind.  At the end of the day that’s what you have to do. But creating a culture of engagement requires thinking about the impact of your choices and managing organization change accordingly.  Before forging ahead with your changes, stop and ask “are there any unintentional consequences to doing this?”  If there are, proactively take steps to ameliorate the issue.

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