Almost every article offering employee engagement advice for organisations seems to focus on a range of similar actions an organisation needs to carry out to engage employees. Almost without fail, these actions emphasise the need to incentivise employees to become engaged.
This is hugely problematic.
Today, I read an article suggesting 50 tried and tested actions an organisation can do to increase engagement. At least 45 of these actions recommend the employer invests significant sums in things such as building a music room, profit-sharing plans, free healthy snacks, massage therapists, on-site clinics, nutritional counselling etc.
As I have already said, this is hugely problematic. It is a problem because it stops the employer from asking the hard questions. It dangles an enticing carrot in front of the employer to throw a bit of money at the problem. After all, the driving force in any business is to find the best route to effectively and efficiently selling its products. So, providing new ergonomic seats, marking employee birthdays or running an employee awards event will seem attractive to an employer.
Many employers will think, ‘is that all we need to do? Why didn’t we think of that before, its so simple?’ Then they will be disappointed with the result.
Employee Engagement Advice: missing the point
The main reason why these suggestions will not achieve the desired results is they assume the full responsibility for employee engagement lies with the employer. They create an expectation and belief that the employee needs to sit and wait on the employer doing something to engage them.
This type of advice sets the employer up for failure and decreasing trust and respect from the employee. Employees are not dumb. They will recognise when the employee engagement strategy is an attempt at getting to the higher productivity with least possible effort. They want you to ask the hard questions. Employees want to tell you how to make work life better and they know how to do it within reasonable parameters. They are clever people that you selected and hired because you noted their ability to get the job done well. And this is still what you need from them.
For most employees, this is still what they want to do for you. The employee engagement advice you listen to as an employer should focus on this positive point and guide you towards achieving it.
Motivational Theory: making my point on employee engagement advice
Through his Two Factor Theory, Frederick Herzberg highlighted that Hygiene Factors do not motivate employees. He showed that working conditions, policies, salary etc are not motivators – they are hygiene factors. Improving hygiene factors simply decreases dissatisfaction.
Taking the usual employee engagement advice I referred to above, doesn’t much of this fall into hygiene factors? If an employer provides healthy lunches, pays employee insurance, provides paid parental leave, ergonomic working spaces, or unlimited annual leave, don’t these become part of the package for an employees?
True, they are great perks to a job and we would all love them. They would certainly decrease dissatisfaction in many jobs. In fact, many organisations already do many of these activities so they do not represent new advice.
But decreasing dissatisfaction is not motivation, nor is it engagement. It is providing the platform upon which to engage people. This advice is simply telling the employer about the working conditions needed to start the process of employee engagement. It is not the ‘silver bullet’ many articles would lead us to believe.
Employee Engagement Advice: getting it right
Engagement will be found when employees feel empowered to make decisions within their job remit, when they feel they have a valued voice in the organisation and when they feel they have a stake in where they work. This will not be achieved through a happy hour, no matter how happy it is.
Employee engagement advice must make employers aware that engagement is about the small things that happen every day in the organisation and in every team. It is about how line managers make employees feel and how employees feel about making decisions and suggestions.
Engagement is also about understanding that the employee shares the responsibility. The employer can put the right conditions in place with the right intentions. We then need to find a way to encourage employees to fully recognise the good intentions and to consider engaging with their employer. This will take time for most employees already experiencing disengagement. It requires a shift in thinking and a change in how they perceive their workplace.
If we continually create the expectation that employees should wait on being engaged by their employer, then it will never happen. We need to empower employees to make the most of their work and that they can play a part in creating an engaging workplace…because it doesn’t work without them.