Employee Engagement: It’s much more than, “show me the money”

...he argues (based on four decades of research) that higher pay does not necessarily lead to better performance. Instead, we are driven by the desire to direct our own lives (autonomy)

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that motivating your employees comes down to money. We tend to think that higher pay will always equate to higher levels of employee engagement. And yet research shows that’s not the case. What is employee engagement? According to Forbes’ Kevin Kruse, employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organisation and its goals.

David Pink authored a book called ‘Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’, in which he argues (based on four decades of research) that higher pay does not necessarily lead to better performance. Instead, we are driven by the desire to direct our own lives (autonomy), the urge to improve at things that matter (mastery) and the yearning to be useful in respect of something larger than ourselves (purpose).

This is not to say that you shouldn’t be remunerating employees fairly, but rather to encourage you that improving employee morale, performance and loyalty can be achieved by truly focusing on the human element.

Good pay and benefits are the starting point, but certainly not the end. Given that engaged and well-balanced employees are more efficient, productive, healthy and happy, here are some strategies for boosting employee engagement:

Focus on feedback
A 2015 survey by Boston Consulting Group polled more than 200 000 people and concluded that the number one factor for job satisfaction was appreciation for work done. Saying ‘thank you’ or ‘well done’ costs nothing, and yet the effect can be massive. We all crave appreciation and recognition, and receiving it at work has been proven to boost employee confidence leading to increased retention rates. The secret is to keep recognition authentic and to encourage it at all levels. Don’t just leave managers to pass on thanks to staff who go the extra mile – encourage employees to recognise and thank one another, and get your executive team in on this too.

Make sure the work is rewarding
When people are doing something they are good at that they feel contributes meaningfully, they are far more engaged than if they are doing work they find dull or meaningless. Obviously, all jobs involve doing work that you don’t enjoy at times, but people need to find fulfilment in their work on the whole to be engaged. Ensure that job descriptions are accurate and that you check in regularly with employees to assess job satisfaction and performance, and to map career development plans.

Weed out bad management
There’s an old adage, “people don’t leave companies; they leave managers”. As Gallup CEO Jim Clifton said in the company’s 2013 “State of the American Workplace” employee engagement study, “The single biggest decision you make in your job—bigger than all the rest—is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits—nothing.”
Employees who feel they are being micromanaged or whose managers are not supportive of them are less likely to be engaged, and more likely to leave.

Include people in the vision
People want to feel like they are part of a bigger purpose, so it’s important to regularly lay out where your organisation is headed, what you’re aiming to achieve, and how your people are instrumental in reaching your goals. It’s not enough to lay out the mission and vision on your website or during the employee onboarding process – you need to be intentional about regularly motivating your employees by reminding them of the end goal and, importantly, what their individual roles contribute.

Help your people achieve their goals
As Pink noted, people are motivated by improving how they can do the things that are important to them. This is a win-win – if you can put people in jobs where they find meaning and then help them get even better at what they’re doing, you win with improved productivity, loyalty and engagement and your people win because they get to achieve mastery. Invest in people development and put people in jobs and projects where they have the opportunity not only to add value, but to learn and grow. Find out what their goals are, and help shape their personal development plans to attain these.

While engaging your employees may sound like a soft skill, it’s actually one of the most important things you can do to improve your organisation’s brand, performance and relationship with all parties.

F.R. (Rhys) Robinson, PhD is Executive Director, Infinitus Reporting Solutions (Pty) Ltd, provider of enterprise-wide consolidation, planning and reporting solutions.

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