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Greenville Business Magazine

Getting Personal At Work Pays Off

Nov 06, 2018 11:18AM ● By Kathleen Maris

By Gary Markle, Energage

At its core, the employment relationship is deeply and intensely personal. You go to the market looking for employees and people show up! When they cross the portal to your business, they bring with them their families, their health, and their outside interests.  

I am not recommending that you mandate that an employee talk to you about a father with Alzheimer’s, a daughter with a learning disability, or a pending divorce. But, if she feels comfortable enough with you to discuss these things, you might want to listen. What you hear might explain some of the performance challenges she’s presenting or reveal a path to increased engagement.

During the first phase of the Catalytic Coaching process (our replacement for the traditional performance review), we ask each employee to answer a series of questions that are designed to help a manager learn how best to work with them. The third and most important question startles some with its directness. Right there on the “official company form” it asks: “What do you want to do or be when you grow up?”

Most classically trained HR leaders are initially alarmed at the personal nature of this question. It doesn’t sound like a lawyer wrote it.

Here’s the thing: Like it or not, you’re involved already. It’s just a question of whether you want to play with the cards face up or down.

Research shows the No. 1 reason good employees leave an organization is the relationship with their immediate manager. This is not the No. 1 reason employees join an organization, but it is the No. 1 reason they leave. Learning about employees as human beings (not just sterile human resources) builds a bond that is hard to break. Talented and ambitious employees may not work for you forever, but wouldn’t it be nice if they always look back on their time with you as both valuable and important. To make this happen, you’ve got to get personal.

So how do we get personal? Consider taking the following actions:

1. Don’t shy away from a difficult personal question. Instead, figure out how to ask it diplomatically and in a manner that demonstrates that you care.

2. When an employee appears in distress, ask “Are you all right?” Don’t demand that he tell you why he is upset, but give him the opportunity to do so, if he is so inclined.

3. Look an employee in the eyes when she is talking to you. Take your fingers off your keyboard and hands off your phone and engage in the conversation. Watch how she says what she says and how she reacts to your response.

4. If you can’t concentrate fully when an employee makes a spontaneous appearance, schedule a time when you can. Make sure that the gap in time does not exceed the window of opportunity for providing satisfaction or relief.

Gary Markle is a senior vice president at Energage, a Philadelphia-based research and consulting firm that surveyed nearly 3 million employees at more than 7,000 organizations in 2018. Energage is the research partner for Top Workplaces. Nominate your company as a Top Workplace at

About The Top Workplaces Program:

The Top Workplaces program identifies organizations that excel at organizational health and employee engagement. Greenville Business Magazine, Columbia Business Monthly, and Charleston Business Magazine, in partnership with Energage, formerly WorkplaceDynamics, offers a free assessment through a simple, scientifically sound, and anonymous employee feedback survey.

The Top Workplaces program recruits organizations, walks them through the survey, and creates the list of top-ranking companies. Why participate? Consider the benefits:

Shout out, stand out: Encourage workplace pride. If you work at a great company, give colleagues a morale boost with something to celebrate. And give your employer well-served credit for creating something special.

Assess, reward, and improve: The results from the Top Workplaces survey can help assess the health of companies. They validate achievements, reveal problem areas, and set a foundation for new goals.

Boost recruiting: Attract and retain the best talent. Employees want to work at companies recognized as leaders that operate by a strong set of values.

Raise the business profile: The Top Workplaces logo on company materials and websites helps spread the word about successful work environments. Customers and business partners will take notice. That awareness can help create new business opportunities, too.

Earn public recognition: Achievements are recognized by Greenville Business Magazine, Columbia Business Monthly, and Charleston Business Magazine.

“Top Workplaces is more than just recognition,” said Doug Claffey, CEO of Energage. “Our research shows organizations that earn the award attract better talent, experience lower turnover, and are better equipped to deliver bottom-line results. Their leaders prioritize and carefully craft a healthy workplace culture that supports employee engagement.”

To participate, go to or call (864) 501-9699.

Energage, founded in 2006, is located in Exton, Pennsylvania. A leader in organizational health research and SaaS-based HR tools, Energage has reached more than 17 million employees from 50,000+ organizations through its employee engagement platform, Top Workplaces program, and workplace improvement solutions.

Contact: Bob Helbig, Media Partnerships Director Energage 414.207.1648