The pursuit of workplace happiness
3 STEPS TO GETTING ENGAGED EMPLOYEES
Unusually prescriptive, this article defines 3 things you need to do to get an engaged workforce. It doesn’t come with a money-back guarantee and counter-arguments or other suggestions are very welcome.
A good enough place to start
When an employee’s self-interest is aligned with the interests of the organisation, that employee is engaged. So your workforce is engaged if a critical mass pro-actively furthers the interests of the business while simultaneously furthering their own interests.
That’s a working definition of employee engagement. It won’t resonate with everyone, but it is a good enough place to start.
Why bother with engagement?
“90% of the World’s Most Admired Companies” employees identified their company as very effective or effective at fostering high levels of employee engagement”¹.
Employees can be excellent performers and deliver a real contribution without being engaged. A teacher might be unhappy with her employer and poorly aligned with that employer’s strategic intent, but integrity and professional standards mean her students are well taught. A salesman with a passion for selling will make target despite feeling undervalued by his employer. More common, however, when an employee feels marginalised is ‘just enough’ performance. That’s low grade dissatisfaction that permeates the working day. It isn’t poor enough to warrant a manager tackling it head on, but it isn’t good enough to…well, it isn’t good enough.
And between these two ends of the spectrum are the workers who turn up, do a day’s work and go home.
Businesses the world over, since organised work began, have been surviving and sometimes succeeding without engaging employees. So why is it a big deal? Why bother to engage with the workforce when you can get by with half-heartedness? Why isn’t it enough just to pay the going rate and expect employees to deliver and, especially in these uncertain times, be grateful they’ve got a job?
Because it’s not. Employers need to bother with engagement because the workplace, the business and the world are better if they do. In most organisations, it is really difficult at the outset to find a measure that conclusively (or even elusively) correlates employee engagement with organisation performance, be that profit or something else, so those with influence have to start by believing it. It is necessary for the senior management to know that engaged employees equal better business performance. And it’s not enough to just engage a few critical employees, though that is better than no-one at all. You need to go get ‘em all. The students who work two hours a week, the people who are notching off the months to retirement, the holders of low status posts, the high-flyers and the professional services crew, the whole shebang.
“Engagement” is one of the biggest HR challenges in the next year². Organisations need to bother because engagement is the holy grail of workplace relations. It is a virtuous circle: engaged employee – better results – deeper engagement.
Get money out of the way
Clearly you need to pay people to come to work. It would be unlawful not to, and if you didn’t, they might not turn up. So set out your payment stall and see who you get. Tune it until you get the best balance between budget and quality. Then leave it alone unless there is a pressing need not to. Engagement is not really about money, although the right level of cash needs to be thought through. Money cannot buy real engagement, although it can prevent active dis-engagement. In any case, most employers have limited room for remunerative manoeuvrability so mechanisms other than money need to be levered to deliver the engagement.
Consider bankers. Massive monetary rewards failed to align the self-interest of employees with the interests of the organisation. On the other hand, take a partnership like John Lewis where salaries are not spectacular but employees have a real stake insuccess. So in terms of employee engagement, the answer isn’t simply to pay more, although if you are clearly under-paying in terms of the market or your organisation’s financial performance, that is going to scupper the notion of an engaged workforce before it is out of its cradle.
What is it then?
Three steps to engagement heaven:
1. Tell employees as much about business performance as you possibly can;
2. Work hard on front-line managers – they’re the bridge to success;
3. Wrap employees in effective non-salary benefits that underscore the whole value of the psychological contract.
1. Information: If you don’t need to keep it secret, share. This is easier in small organisations, but not impossible in large ones which tend to have better defined, if not better used, channels for disseminating information. What do people like to know? Most things really. Work is where they spend much of their waking time, invest their professional hopes, want to do a good job and have that acknowledged. If it irritates that politicians frequently patronise the electorate with half-truths and platitudes, why don’t senior managers learn from that? Tell people what is going on, good, bad, indifferent, uncertain, what-ifs and the rest. Ideally, tell them in person but if not, use whatever is at your disposal. People don’t root for things they don’t understand or know about, so help them understand and they will start to care.
2. Front line supervisors: These are the employees you most need on board. In any company it is likely there is one set of people with significant sway. Typically, it will be the first level of line managers. They will be managing new joiners, long stayers, staff who deal with customers or who are vital for service delivery.
These front liners will be powerful barometers of what’s up or down, and highly influential. If they are not with you, they might not be actively against you but you are missing out on their power as advocates and, worse, alienating not only that group but all the workforce who report to them.
3. Non salary benefits: Field force employees can be more attached to whether they’ve got an i-pod dock in their company car than a pay rise. Staff value benefits disproportionately highly to the cost of the benefit to the employer, which is good news because many benefits come at a low price to the employer, making them extremely cost-effective. What sort of things should you consider?
Awards and recognition: long service (but ask yourself, is 15 years really where to start?) and performance; people really like their contribution to be recognised.
Employee discounts: for a few pounds per head, your employees save hundreds of pounds on everyday goods and services. You need to pay for a service to avoid employees being a sales channel for retailers, so get a scheme with choice, independence and full back-up service.
Employee Assistance Programme: a minority of the workforce will use it but for them it is really valuable. All will like to know there is independent help in tough times provided by their employer. Again, a few pounds a year.
Tax efficient salary sacrifice: first, of course, pensions. If you don’t enable employees to salary sacrifice pension contributions, start now. Put it top of your list. Add in childcare vouchers and cycle to work and you’re away.
Healthcare cash plans: you can either offer a fantastic scheme for employees or for a few pounds per head per month, you could provide it for them.
…And more. Employee Benefits magazine notes the ‘increasing importance placed on reward by UK organisations and recognition of the role benefits have to play in supporting wider business objectives’. A tiny, tiny percentage of your payroll budget would deliver real value in benefits. Benefits deliver real employee engagement.
That’s it. Do these 3 things and you’ve cracked employee engagement.
¹ WMAC list compiled by Hays and FORTUNE magazine March 2010
² Thomsons Online Benefits – Employee Rewards Watch 2010