In a global market, virtually anyone can copy technology and business models, so it’s finally true that people are a company’s only competitive advantage. Businesses that want to accentuate and optimize their competitive talent advantage focus on employee engagement strategies that improve overall workforce productivity and return on staffing investments.
But, one major impediment to employee engagement is the adverse effect of unhappiness, which is an epidemic that touches employers in every sector of the economy.
When employees are disengaged or disenfranchised with their work situation, their performance plateaus, or diminishes significantly. When there is awareness about what causes unhappiness at work, a company can do something about it.
Research has shown that the drivers of employee engagement have everything to do with how an employee feels about work and feels at work. Engagement begins with the employee feeling connected and invested in the company’s mission and direction, and continues with the employee having trust in the company’s leadership.
The first step to creating and inspiring engagement in the workforce is to debunk several pervasive and misleading beliefs (really, myths) about employee engagement. There are six of these myths that disrupt employers’ ability to keep their people engaged.
1. Flexible work environment fosters productivity. Mobility and cloud-based technology are invaluable to companies of all types, including manufacturers as well as service- or resource-oriented firms. That value many not be translatable to human resources. While remote work opportunities reduce a business’s carbon footprint and give more valuable hours to individual employees, more often than not companies do a poor job of looping remote workers into the daily activities of their businesses. Unfortunately, a very typically adverse effect of remote work for employees is that they find themselves “out of sight, out of mind.” Research shows that remote workers and workers with flex-time schedules receive less coaching and mentoring, and miss out on the institutional knowledge-sharing and socialization that happens in the typical course of a shared workspace.
2. Strong paychecks equal strong loyalty. Not all people are primarily motivated by money. More often than not, fair and sustainable pay is not a motivator; it is a table stake. For years, managers have approached the problem employee-retention by increasing monetary rewards and incentives. While this economic motivator works for 20% of the working population, most organizations now find that employee spiffs and salary increases alone are insufficient to reverse the turnover trend.
For 80% of the working population the money is not a lever that leads to engagement and buy-in; 40% of employees want workplace rewards that include more educational opportunities, challenging and satisfying projects, and a sense of confidence that they can expand their knowledge and extend their career as a result of working with a specific company, or in a certain role.
The other 40% of workers want to feel emotionally connected to the mission and service of the organization and to its customers. Increasing their customer-facing opportunities is much more rewarding than a few extra bucks in their paycheck or receiving a gift card for coffee. More than that, if money is the only mechanism employers use to keep people in their organization, it encourages an increasing use of money and may foster bidding wars between current and future employers.
3. Employee independence is necessary for performance. One pervasive myth is that all employees need autonomy and independence, and that a more hands-off management will induce employees to perform better. The reality is not everyone values autonomy and independence, or at least not to the same degree. To one employee, being left alone can be a true benefit and he or she may thrive when left alone. Another may grow increasingly disconnected, and feel isolated and ignored.
4. A job is just a job. Today’s workers (and human beings in general) are much more inclined to seek “work life fulfillment” than workers in past generations. Today, employees fundamentally want and need much more than a paycheck in return for the work they do. A striking majority of workers have said they want to derive “purpose” and “meaning” from the work they do, and that they feel happier at work when they know that what they do matters to the success of the organization.
5. Employees should be satisfied with current positions. High-performing people need to see a route for themselves in whatever position they presently fill, and in the company where they work. Engagement research shows that when people see a pathway for growth and development they deliver higher-level results, consistently, for the organization. When employees sense that an employer has invested in their growth, they are more committed to their role and more connected to how they affect the success of the company.
6. Your company is enough to keep the employee. The sixth myth is that people make a firm choice to work for a company, and their loyalty to the company and brand is enough to engage and retain them there. What has become painfully clear over the last decade is that people don’t leave employers — they leave managers. When a good employee does not have a strong relationship with his or her manager, no incentive or brand loyalty will keep the employee fully engaged. People need to feel appreciated, respected, acknowledged and important; when their immediate supervisor does not provide meaningful assignments, regular feedback and mentoring, engagement is thwarted.
All of the perceived solutions listed here are good components of an effective employee engagement program, but alone they are insufficient to spark connections or drive employee engagement. When 'carrots' like money, time off, autonomy, and career opportunities are not coupled with alignment, good people management, and ‘match fit’, those incentives eventually will cost employers millions and deliver little or no long-term benefit in the long term.
A well-considered, “conscious” employee-engagement program addresses who the employees are as individuals, and allows for employers to take a customized approach to assigning work and giving feedback. Individualization is a 21st Century shift from the one size-fits-all management of the 1980s. A main component of a well-built employee-engagement program includes highly competent managers who embrace coaching and mentoring their employees.
When a manager takes the time to offer professional development opportunities, communicate how an employee’s role contributes to the organization’s overall success, and rewards great performance, employees feel valued and appreciated — and engagement soars.
Magi Graziano is the CEO of Conscious Hiring® and Development, and author of “The Wealth of Talent.” Her column, "Taking a Conscious Approach to Hiring," appeared in the February issue. Learn more at www.KeenAlignment.com.