Employee Engagement




What is employee engagement?

Employee engagement is often cited as a contributing factor to improved company results, and Kevin Kruse defines it as;

Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.

Engaged employees will go to extra lengths to do their job and serve the business and the customers. Kruse cites examples of people choosing to work overtime without being asked because the work needed to be finished. Essentially they’ll care for the company and its customers.

What’s in it for employees?

If you’re engaged at work you feel pride in your work, in the company you work for, a loyalty to the company. You’re likely to have more intrinsic motivation; a sense of purpose, a willingness to take responsibility, and a desire to learn.

What’s in it for companies?

Engaged employees are seen to be more productive, more service oriented, and better for the profits of the company. It’s so important to companies that they put considerable, and growing effort, into measuring engagement year on year. There is criticism on how it’s measured, but large companies still find value in measuring it.

What do the cynics say?

It’s a term that is an easy target of cynics, some label it as a new name for employee satisfaction, or teamwork. Others consider it a measure of window dressing to make the company look good. It’s often connected to “manager speak” as in this brilliant Dilbert cartoon.

Can you have too much employee engagement?

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic points to a dark side of employee engagement, reminding readers that engagement is a means to an end – companies pursue it for the productivity results. He also points out that it’s dangerous to expect higher performance to automatically come from higher engagement, managers should instead focus on developing performance at a higher level.

So much for the company perspective, what about for individuals? I believe that in some cases burnout is the direct result of excessive employee engagement. I’ve seen more than one highly professional, highly motivated, engaged employee take on levels of responsibility beyond their capacity, when the company failed to notice – and failed to support them – burnout was the awful outcome.

Can companies build employee engagement?

A friend whose work in internal communications I admire has suggested that engagement is something intrinsic to the person and not dependent on the company. I think there’s some truth in that but I’m not quite so pessimistic. I think you can destroy engagement or you can build it up.

I would like to see a change in how we talk about engagement, the conversation now centres on expectations on the employee and benefits to a company.

Instead I propose that we recognise that the contract between an employee and a company is about the exchange of money for skills and time. That agreement must be a fair exchange. Beyond that it’s up to a company to earn the engagement of all employees by how they treat their staff.

So next time people talk about “building employee engagement”, suggest a switch to “earning employee engagement” and go on from there. It’s a one word change but the approach is completely different.

image happy

Happiness at Work is Linked to Success

Lasting positive change is apparently simple, just repeat the following habits for 21 days;

  • 3 Gratitudes
  • Journaling
  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Random Acts of Kindness

(Go to 11.05 on the video, Shawn Achor cites the research supporting this).

The last item on the list inspired a bunch of students to share biscuits with classmates stuck studying in the McGregor (no relation) Reading Room at the University of Virginia. If you’re looking for ideas for Random Acts of Kindness, there’s a whole website on the subject.

The idea of happiness as a work outcome is an easy target for the cynics, but the research is there, and it’s not a new idea; Alexander Kjerulf wrote a book “Happy Hour is 9 to 5”  first published in 2007 which talks about the connection between happiness, motivation and success.  It’s perhaps not surprising that he comes from Denmark recently assessed as the world’s happiest country in a UN report.

A fact that the national brewer was quick to adopt for an advertisement in Copenhagen’s airport. Fair enough, I did find their product an agent to feeling happy when I was there last week.

Social Media Two Factors of Motivation

I saw a presentation from Lego regarding their social media presence back in about May, and I was jealous (this article summarises Lego’s approach). They have it all; a solid strategy for their online presence, a global team to support it, a growing community, user generated content, and co-creation.

It was presented as something attainable for all of us but I had my doubts, after all Lego has a simple, versatile product. A product that connects to childhood, play and creativity.

Social Media is increasingly important for companies, it is often where customers first look for a company or ask a question, but not all companies can use social media in the same way. There have been a few examples over the past year where companies have tried to use social media according to all the principles of openness that that should work – only to have it backfire. Most notably JP Morgan who last month tried to launch the hashtag “#AskJPM” encouraging Twitter users to take part in a Q&A with Vice Chairman James B. Lee.

It sounds like a good idea; banks need to increase the openness and trust they have with customers, at least that’s how I imagine the idea was sold internally. But JP Morgan has been hit by waves of financial scandal and at the time of the invitation tweet was in the middle of negotiating a huge settlement over mortgage issues. The Twitter backlash was fierce – you can still read it next to the original invite tweet.

It’s easy to see that there’s a difference between the emotion people have for Lego, vs that they have for banks. Particularly after almost five years of crisis. But what about a “happier” brand, perhaps a coffee company. Well last year Starbucks launched a hashtag #SpreadTheCheer around Christmas – sounds festive. Except that Starbucks were right in the middle of a tax controversy so that hashtag was soon hijacked.

So what does all this mean – should you stay away from Social Media every time there’s a “public relations” issue? No, that would be a short-term and self-defeating approach. Instead your social media strategy should include how to act when there is a reputation question, your social media experts should be flexible and able to handle both positive and negative situations. And perhaps most vitally companies need to realise that for the customer there is no difference between PR/communications/marketing – anything said about your company in any medium is fair game.

I’ve been thinking of this along the lines of Herzbergs two factor motivation theory. Herzberg theorised that there were some factors that were motivating in a workplace, and some factors that were not motivating by their presence but were de-motivating by their absence. I’ve been thinking about what needs to be present for people to be motivated to support your brand and how that might relate to the traditional ideas of an engagement ladder. This is what I’ve come up with so far.

The engagement ladder is the engagement companies should aim for, traditionally it’s thought that people take small steps along it. Of course it’s possible that if your company is facing a high profile legal issue that your customers will share content about you – but it’s unlikely to be positive.

Companies that are working with a “hygeine” strategy can still work on co-creation, but then not via social media, do it with core groups at specific innovation days.

There isn’t a one size fits all answer on how to use social media successfully. It will depend on the industry, the target audience, the business strategy and the reputation of your company. But every company can think through a strategy, and every company should be thinking about social media both from a motivated/marketing perspective and from the hygeine/reputation perspective – and be ready to use both sets of tactics.

Happiness Bonus

I’ve known for a long time that I work better when I’m happy, challenged and learning. I’ve noticed that my team are more productive when there’s a bit of a happy buzz around the office – which I’m proud to say we manage to generate most days.

There’s a bunch of research out there confirming my observation, Alexander Kjerulf cites research connecting happiness to lower rates of sickness, higher creativity levels, better team work and other factors that all contribute to a more productive team in his article “Top 10 reasons why happiness at work is the ultimate productivity booster“.

So what’s the magic to keep employees happy? Barry Moltz of Open Forum came up with a list of seven secrets to keeping employees happy.

For me the big two are recognition and having fun;

Recognition – “thank you” is the most powerful phrase, even more powerful when you can be specific about what was achieved, and do it in an open setting. The fact that you’ve noticed what a team member has done will speak volumes.

Have fun – how you do this will depend on your company or team’s culture. We have toys on our desks, geek posters (thank you Oatmeal), a purple cow, and angry birds speakers decorating the office. We do coffee meetings, lunch at the local Chinese restaurant on a Friday as a team, and Bad Music Fridays. We have “in jokes” and “geek jokes”, there’s an on-going rivalry between the iPhone and android phone owners (the blackberrys are not in the running). There is a light-heartedness in how we interact with each other. Oh, and there are cookies in our team meeting by common consent.

Open Forum also came up with 5 Easy Ways to Brighten an Employee’s Day, which includes giving a small gift. I don’t really do that – and it’d be weird in the country and company in which I work, but I came across something called Bonus Bucks which I think could be a great idea.

Right now it seems to be only in the US, but they’ve collected a long list of participating vendors – to test it I used the postcode 90210 (the only one I know) and it came back with a list of  about 20 vendors in each of seven categories. I like the concept although giving cash or cash equivalents in some European countries could attract taxes for the employee so it’s harder to implement. For now I’ll stick to shouting coffee for my team and buying cookies for our team meetings.



Drive; The surprising truth about what motivates us

Daniel Pink

It’s not money.

Or rather above a fair wage paying more won’t get more creativity or better “right brained” work out of us, in fact our performance may go down.

This wasn’t entirely surprising, I’ve known for a long time that what motivates me to go to work and try harder is not the salary but the opportunities to learn, to make things better, and to solve problems. I’m sure other people have a similar pattern of motivation, and yet our whole management system is based on the idea of paying for performance.

Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 13.43.09Pink draws on a lot of behaviourial research and concludes that not only does increasing the reward have no effect on our motivation, it can decrease the performance. Rewards work when they’re connected to routine or mechanical work, but as soon as the work has an element of cognitive skill rewards destroy performance. There is, it seems, a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.

So what does motivate people in the creative and cognitive realms?

  • Mastery; gaining skill or knowledge, “the desire to get better and better at something that matters”
  • Autonomy; being in control how we work, “the freedom to great work is valuable”
  • Purpose; working towards a larger goal or wider good, “those who work in the service of some greater objective can achieve even more

Pink finishes the book by offering 9 strategies for individuals to get into “Drive” motivation from asking yourself “Was I better today than yesterday?” to taking a year long sabbatical to recharge and learn. He also offers 9 strategies to take your team or organisation into “Drive”, including using “now that” rather than “if then” rewards so that your team gets a reward as a celebration for achieving something, rather than holding out a reward on condition of something being achieved.

It’s a good read, full of ideas and humour, thought-provoking, practical and well written. He’s also a good speaker, and talked about some of the ideas behind “Drive” at TED, here’s the clip.

Would you work harder for more money?

What motivates you? Do you know? Do you think you would work harder for more money?

Well, possibly not.

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs once our physiological and safety needs are satisfied, we need belonging, esteem and self-actualisation – things that can’t be bought, and that having more money won’t really deliver.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Look around at your colleagues, I’m sure you’ll find someone motivated by the social aspects of work, the guy who gets everyone coffee, who knows everyone’s story, and who might organise social events for the team. They’re sometimes called “the glue”.

You might also find someone who seems to be motivated by money. Perhaps they’re rather interested how their salary compares to that of their colleagues. Dig a little deeper; money might be how they measure status or achievement. Most of my team measure achievement by projects completed, problems resolved or value delivered and are motivated by that.

For truly creative types the act of creating, the opportunity to be original is motivating in itself. This can also apply to those deep geeks who are into writing “elegant code” as one of my favourite geeks calls it.

So does money come into our motivation at all?

Yes. If we believe we are underpaid it is demotivating according to Herzberg who categorised salary as a “hygiene factor” in his two factor theory of motivation. But paying ourselves more won’t proportionally raise our motivation.

How do these factors play out?

There’s currently a big debate in the UK regarding bonuses being paid to RBS investment managers. The controversy arises because the UK government now owns a significant part of the bank, and in the current economy it’s very difficult to see people who could now be seen as government employees getting a bonus when no other government employees will. But the argument from RBS is that they will lose the people needed to rebuild the bank if they cannot pay bonuses competitive with other banks (not all banks are limited in this by government ownership, Barclay’s for instance has not taken a capital injection from the UK government).

This can be framed as a motivation problem. The RBS needs to motivate its employees to rebuild the company, but they employees are demotivated to the point of leaving if they do not receive a bonus in line with competitor companies. Perhaps because they seem themselves as then not being paid a fair salary that reaches the “hygiene level” prescribed by Hertberg, or because they are status driven and measuring that status by money earnt. At the time of writing it seemed likely that the UK government would relent and allow RBS to pay bonuses as planned.

However at least one eminent commentator, Henry Mintzberg, argues against bonuses, particularly for executive level managers. In his view bonuses do not reward actual contribution, and are likely to motivated the wrong behaviour of executives.

Do you know what motivates you?


Maslow’s hierarchy Work found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Maslow%27s_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svg / CC BY-SA 3.0

Get Motivated

Guess what! Motivating people by money alone doesn’t work. Or at least it only works in a very narrow set of circumstances. There’s been a lot of talk about the bonus culture of the banking system, and its part in the current crisis so this presentation is timely.

He promotes the idea that giving people “autonomy, mastery and purpose” will be more effective than the traditionally “carrot and stick” model of motivation currently in general use. Take a look; it’s interesting, and part of  a book “Drive” coming out in December (you can pre-order now).

Post script; I purchased the book and reviewed it; Drive