I am unaware of a single company that is not focused to some degree on engaging employees. The central concept of employee engagement has, since 2008, risen from the odd conversation to a strategic imperative in virtually every organization. The notion of attracting and retaining top talent has been a value for far longer. However, years of economic downsizing, of expecting workers to “do more with less”, coupled with the reality that the emerging workforce is far less likely to display loyalty than those generations which preceded them, has created urgency around the issue.
Studies performed by Gallup, The Hay Group, TowersWatson, and others point to a core group of considerations which, collectively, will shape the extent to which employees are emotionally tethered to their employer. Factors such as individual growth opportunities, a sense of importance and inclusion, personal development, open channels of communication, alignment with the direction of the organization and a sense of being appreciated are all part of what makes engagement happen.
In response, there are many companies which have positioned themselves as “engagement experts”, usually with a business model that sells a product or service which they will tell you is the central driver of employee loyalty. They often market themselves through HR associations as sponsors of conferences or webinars, which are thinly veiled lead-generation and prospecting opportunities. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, they too often oversimplify the engagement process in order to make a sale.
The reality is that companies have taken years to build their prevailing culture, and there is no easy fix to pull the trigger on which will change worker perceptions, attitudes or behaviors.
An example is when companies peddle a platform for recognizing employee performance in the guise of creating a “culture of recognition”. You see them everywhere… Companies without sufficient resources or intellectual capital to provide meaningful insight, yet are ready to sell you a rewards program which presumes that cultural values occur as the result of having an efficient means of distributing retailer gift cards. This is not only a sham, but it can be a dangerous tact for large, complex organizations to pursue.
Employees want to feel appreciated for their contribution, they want to believe that what they do plays a role in helping the company progress, and they want to be supported in their personal development goals. They want to be fairly compensated, for sure, and they expect competitive benefits. These are table stakes. They want safe and healthy workplaces, as well as a manager or supervisor that they believe knows them and cares about them. They want flexibility, and they expect the technology of the company to be at least reasonably current.
The act of recognizing an employee is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. But it is not, in itself, going to engender a sense of appreciation. Appreciation is the feeling that one is valued over the longer term. Hand me a $25 gift card to Starbucks, and that might be nice. But unless I feel there is more behind it (i.e., that what I do is important, and performing well is noted and acknowledged on an ongoing basis) the occasional act of recognition may be met with cynicism. And that certainly is not going to go far in encouraging my loyalty, to my manager or to the company.
The bottom-line is this: It is entirely possible to shape a culture that walks the talk when it comes to demonstrating loyalty to its employees and earning their reciprocal dedication in turn. This is a highly complex mission, requiring top-down commitment, a high degree of transparency, frequency and honesty in communications, a devotion to continual learning and individual progress, a comprehensive measurement system to keep supervisors, managers, directors and executives all in the loop as to who the most valued, productive employees are. You can’t buy loyalty, and giving out money or gift cards (which employees view the same as money, only restrictive) won’t buy engagement.
My encouragement is to look past those companies who are defined by their “global vouchers” and “gift card platforms”, and instead seek out a partner that has the resources to develop the right approach, encompassing research and analytics, learning and organizational effectiveness, a complete complement of communications and creative capabilities, as well technology to manage and measure your complex employee hierarchies for segmented, targeted campaigns. Oh, and they should also have a full range of recognition solutions including readily customized lifestyle rewards as well as experiential, travel, and others (including the ability to fulfill on cash awards when those make sense). If you have employee groups around the world, then your supplier should as well have resources and associates worldwide to provide local knowledge regarding regional cultures, practices, values and logistics.
Wondering what to do? Give me a call or send me a note and I will happily assist you, and, yes, if the profile of our own organization is a “fit” for what you are needing to achieve, I will tell you that too. If there is a better alternative for you, I promise I will tell you that too, and help put you together with the right agency or experts to meet your needs.