Employee Engagement : Gasp! Employees don’t just want money?

Employee Engagement - Employees having fun in the office

The importance of employee engagement

Scrolling through LinkedIn, and it appears that the new trend across thought leaders is that employees no longer seek high salaries, and financial rewards and incentives don’t work. And I agree – to a degree.

Earlier this year, I was having a conversation with the Head of Careers of a top global company and she happened to say ‘We don’t offer the most competitive salaries but we’ve got a great company culture.’ A few days later, in a social setting, I was chatting to a friend who had recently just resigned from the same company and, of course, I inquired about his leaving. His response was blatant: ‘there is a great company culture but, unfortunately, culture won’t pay my bills’. 

Employees may not just want money but are we doing enough to ensure we know what our employees actually do want?

Employee motivation: we know this 

There is a fascinating RSA animation on YouTube that illustrates a talk done by Daniel Pink on his book, Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us – a read I highly recommend. I watch this clip regularly and every time I do, it gets the cogs turning. The video, narrated by Daniel Pink himself, unpacks an MIT study that finds that if a task only requires mechanical skill, rewards work as expected – the better the rewards, the better the job performance. However, once a task requires even rudimentary cognitive skill, the results of rewards are no longer so linear. In this particular study (which was replicated many times, in many different locations, by many different professionals, with many different subjects), a larger reward actually led to poorer performance. This is because employees aren’t just workhorses – they want to achieve more than just a paycheque at the end of the day.

And this study is over 10 years old. This carrot-stick idea that employees are no longer simply financially motivated is not a new one – we’re not breaking ground here, friends. But my concern is that leadership teams are too quick to jump to cutting salaries (because that’s good for business) and throwing some beanbags into a ‘chill room’ (because that’s good for employees). But are leaders at risk of doing this without actually exploring, understanding and executing what the other side of the coin is? Is that genuinely going to result in employee motivation and engagement?

Are you possibly one of the many only listening to what you want to hear (cue ominous “da da daaaaa”)?

Quick sidenote 

Just to quickly clear this up though, employees may not be fully financially motivated but they do need their basic wants and needs covered. The paradox here is to pay people enough so that money is no longer a concern. Complementing the above, once employees have got to this point, paying them more is no longer enough of a motivator.

Employee motivation: we know this but are we actually doing anything about it?

Before the industrial revolution, the working world didn’t change much. Yet since then, and particularly in the last 2 years, the working world has evolved exponentially and we’re certainly still in the throes of a transition period. No sh*t, Sherlock, right? Everyone has accepted that. But we’re still treating our employees exactly the same. We still work 5 days a week. We still work 8 hours a day, if not more. We still want our employees to be in our physical line-of-site. In the last 18 months, I have spoken to so many working individuals, who have thrived working remotely as a professional and absolutely loved it from a personal perspective. And yet, so many companies are insisting that their employees go back into the office. 

Why? (I’m genuinely asking). 

And I am not saying that remote work is the answer for all businesses. What I am questioning is if a workforce worked remotely, did their job well and enjoyed it, why are we taking that away from them? What is the business motivation behind that and are we taking into consideration employee motivation?

So, what does motivate an employee?

The motivations behind why people work fall into 3 overarching categories: money, status and purpose. And, of course, you can have a combination of the 3 but to box an entire workforce as ‘x-motivated’ or ‘x- and y- motivated’ is not going to give you the tools that will actually keep your employees motivated. Employee motivation is fundamentally important to the success of a business. Your employees are the backbone of your business and employee motivation determines what your employees actually bring to your business on a daily basis. 

So, why are we so quick to assume and generalise what motivates our employees?

To execute an employee motivation program that generates positive results comes down to understanding each of your employees on an individual level. And, yes, this is possible for a company with a large scale workforce. 

So, all-in-all, yes, I do agree that throwing money at our employees is not going to magically generate the employee engagement that we’re all seeking. But I don’t agree that a one-size-fits-all employee-engagement strategy is a solution either. We need to move away from the idea that we can generalise anything across our workforce:

  • Employee engagement does not necessarily lie in a hybrid working environment.
  • Employee engagement does not necessarily lie in an in-house coffee shop.
  • Employee engagement does not necessarily lie in an open-door policy.
  • Employee engagement does not necessarily lie in that Maldives trip. 

(Although, speaking for myself, a potential Maldives trip would certainly get me going.)

It’s time to think smaller and more individualised. It’s time to reimagine your employee motivation and engagement strategies in a way that generates profitable business results.

Contact Pulse Motivation for more information.

Also read why incentives and rewards is not all that understanding a large-scale workforce comes to.

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