An email popped into my in-box yesterday afternoon, just as I was slowly cranking my brain into gear and trying to summon up some enthusiasm for work after the festive season. 

The message was short but sweet. Welcome back. Hope you had a good break and what a shame we’ve all had to battle through this awful weather on the first day back at work. We all know it’s going to be a tough year, but I’m optimistic we’ll meet the challenges ahead and at least we have the Olympics and the Golden Jubilee celebrations to lift our spirits. Look forward to seeing you all next week when we can get together as a team to plan for the year ahead.

“So what?” I hear you asking. Well for me, it provided a bit of a lift and helped to rouse me out of my post-holiday stupor. It was acknowledgement we‘d all had a pretty grim start to the week, a reminder of some good things to look forward to and a gentle nudge that we needed to knuckle down together and get on with it.

It made me wonder how many other managers had thought about the need to provide a bit of just-in-time motivation to get their teams up and running at full strength quickly after a prolonged break.

The New Year is a great opportunity to re-energise employees, help them focus on what’s important and boost potentially flagging levels of employee engagement. It’s a good time to remind people about their objectives and create some clarity around priorities, while at same time reassuring them of your support and appreciation for their efforts.

Now just a simple email is a good start. But technology can help managers build on the message and create a dialogue with their teams. A well-timed Tweet can serve to spur people into action. A good blog post can be the catalyst that gets people talking about an important issue or challenge. An impromptu discussion on an internal chat forum can lead to new ideas, better employee engagement and improved team spirit.

The power of social media is that when used in this way, it gives employees a voice. It helps them feel involved, reinforces the fact that their views are valued and they have an important contribution to make. It’s a way of creating conversation and encouraging collaboration rather than simply conveying information.

Of course the more involved employees are – and the better appreciated they feel – the more likely they are to become engaged with the business and what it’s trying to achieve.

HR software solutions can also feed into this process of involvement and employee engagement. Automated performance management systems, for example, can help ensure employees are clear about where the business is going and what they need to do personally to help achieve corporate goals.

On-line systems make it easy to update individual performance objectives as business needs change. Individual development plans can be revisited regularly to make sure they are still fit for purpose. The system acts as a trigger to make sure the right conversations take place at the right time and that everyone is clear about what they need to do differently.

It’s a sad fact that many HR people – and indeed many of those responsible for leading teams – are still wary of technology and are not even close to exploiting its full potential. They have realised it can help them streamline procedures and ease the administrative burden, but they haven’t fully switched on to the fact they can also use it as a tool to build relationships and make a significant difference to employee engagement.

As management guru Dave Ulrich says in this week’s HR Magazine, HR people need to master technology, both to deliver the administrative work but also to share information and connect people both inside and outside to each other.

Maybe there’s a New Year’s Resolution somewhere in there for HR people about making technology work harder for their business and improving their employee engagement levels in 2012? What’s your view?

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.