I’m not suggesting that employees should be made to be miserable. Ultimately, that’s up to all of us individually. The point I’ve been trying to make for ages and this recent article captures nicely is that employee happiness and employee engagement are quite separate and different things. If you want to gift chocolate fish and back rubs (no non-consensual touching!) that’s up to you and your spare time and resources. Happy employees can be unproductive and unhappy ones can be productive. Engagement is about the observable application of discretionary effort at work that on average leads to greater productivity, revenue and profitability. Who knows how happy people are? (Including themselves.)
Here’s an extract. Note that happiness is cited as one of many components of engagement, so it’s not all doom and gloom. I don’t think they’re in order so don’t get excited that happiness is “number 1.” The article talks about a dashboard which also is an interesting idea. It’s all about trending.
Here are the 10 metrics that are proven to have the biggest impact on employee engagement:
How happy are employees at work and at home?
How much energy do employees have at work?
Are employees getting feedback frequently enough?
Are employees being recognized for their hard work?
Are employees satisfied with their work environment?
Relationships with Managers
Do employees and their managers get along well?
Relationships with Colleagues
Do the employees get along with each other?
Do employees’ values align with the company values?
Are employees proud of where they work?
Do employees have opportunities for career growth?
I recommend this blog post from Jessica Gross summarising a TED talk from Dan Ariely. It’s a succinct capture of his key points about internal motivation and how we can tap into that (or at least avoid conflicting with that.) There’s some evidence that cute internet kitten photos can actually enhance your sense of focus on a proximate task and I’m definitely going to try the hand-washing motivation technique with my family!
His key points were:
- Seeing the fruits of our labor may make us more productive
- The less appreciated we feel our work is, the more money we want to do it
- The harder a project is, the prouder we feel of it
- Knowing that our work helps others may increase our unconscious motivation
- The promise of helping others makes us more likely to follow rules
- Positive reinforcement about our abilities may increase performance
- Images that trigger positive emotions may actually help us focus
Q: I want to be a great leader. What’s this thing called “employee engagement” I’ve been hearing about? Is it just consultants coming up with some new term to sell me their services, or what? I’m hoping it’s real. Economic times are tough. I need something to get more out of the team I lead. – Bewildered of Birkenhead
A: Dear Bewildered of Birkenhead,
The phrase “employee engagement” might be new and it certainly is flavour of the month in leadership literature, but the underlying concept is true and timeless human nature.
Employee engagement is not “morale” or “satisfaction” or “happiness”. Plenty of unhappy people are highly productive and plenty of deliriously happy folk are fine with showing up, punching a clock, getting paid and going home regardless of whether anything productive happens. Employee engagement is the extent to which an employee chooses to apply discretionary effort. It’s doing more than you have to because you choose to.
So, there are engaged employees doing more than they have to, present employees who do only what they have to, and disengaged employees who are reading this careers section at work to find a new job with anyone who isn’t you.
The numbers vary a little across time, industry and geography, but they’re remarkably consistent: 26 per cent are engaged, 28 per cent are disengaged and 46 per cent are present.
These are averages. What are the proportions in your workplace?
UnderArmour’s founder Kevin Plank’s got some views on what motivates employees. Here’s an article about them. I don’t agree with everything in it, especially the bit about “happiness,” but otherwise, with emphasis on autonomy and connecting business success to employee success, it’s very sound.
The articles key points are:
- Set a good example
- Focus on employee happiness* rather than employee motivation
- Make sure employees share in the company’s success
- Create a culture of autonomy and agency
- Encourage workers to voice complaints
- Take on fun volunteer assignments
- Get in touch with your inner start-up
* (I think they mean culture rather than happiness really. There’s no evidence linking happiness in its literal sense to productivity one way or the other. That said, I like happiness personally.)
There’s some ‘meat n potatoes’ engagement stuff in there but there’s some clever and original thinking too. I love the ‘anti-fan club’ concept to proactively create a medium in which beefs can be aired and sorted early. This links nicely with my ‘Go ugly early’ philosophy in my book ‘The Brain-Based Boss’ .
The ‘controlled chaos’ referred to in the article is engagement in action. Scary to conservative managers, it’s accepted and sought after by genuine leaders. And it’s coming up to Christmas where controlled chaos is, apparently, what we all want on the roads the shops and our homes.
Here are some studies that show that reminders about money led consumers to react against people who would normally influence their decisions.
For all the talk and research about the extent to which money motivates people, I’m certain its very important. My personal stance is that people get a job for money but, unless they have a routine, linear and unthinking job, money doesn’t motivate them to do any more or better work. Money gets people to show up and it’s a control mechanism. Calling the carrot or stick of money a motivator is giving it too much credit. And if there’s one thing money doesn’t like, it’s credit.
There’s a chapter in my book ‘The Brain-Based Boss’ about the influence the perception of endowed progress has on our behaviour. Simply, we feel more inclined to pur in effort towards a goal when we think we’ve already made a committed start. There are neat studies showing how a loyalty card with two stamps already given from day 1 get better results than cards starting from scratch.
Seinfeld tells a story of how he got good at comedy writing. Who’d have thought? He got good at comedy writing by writing a lot of comedy. I recall reading Jules Verne’s biography. Verne said, “Writers write.” Except he would have said it in French. Good call though Jules. Tres bien.
Read Seinfeld’s story here. It’s a simple yet powerful idea that obviously brought him great results. The 2 principle traits of successful people are grit and self discipline. Seinfeld’s idea can help you improve both. If, as a side effect, it makes you funnier, well, that’s a side effect we can all laugh about.
This blogger’s Forbes post is kind of arrogant. Kind of right but kind of arrogant. He explicitly slams Daniel Pink’s book ‘Drive’ which is anyone’s right to do but the basis on which he does so is wrong. We could all ignore this as the rantings of an internet troll if this guy was not a professor and founder of “one of the country’s leading management research organizations.” (Is there a countdown show for those hosted by Ryan Seacrest?) He claims that Pink claims that money is not a motivator. That is not so. Pink specifically raves about money as a motivator:
– to get people to take a job in the first place, and
– in linear and repetitive tasks
What Pink refuses to accept is that money is always a motivator as traditional carrot-and-stick thinking would have us believe. I suspect the guy’s actual beef is that Pink is making money from books and speeches. They’re essentially saying the same thing – people are different and motivated by different things under different circumstances. One size does not fit all.
Actually for all his arrogance, I agree with almost all of what he says and his conclusions and that’s even after the prejudice with which which I read it due to his name being Edward E. Lawler III. Is it a peculiarly American thing to throw down that middle initial? Even so I don’t have too much a problem with that in isolation. At least It wasn’t E. Edward Lawler III with an initial first. I don’t know what it is but I just have an inherent distrust of the III. And that’s not just movies but people too. (Godfather III or Police Academy III anyone?) The middle initial and the III in tandem, well, that’s just a credibility double whammy to me.
Anyways, I totally agree with E.’s conclusion that:
“Looking at the results of employee engagement surveys and developing action plans based on them requires looking at the items on the survey in terms of what they measure. Do they measure satisfaction? Do they measure motivation? Once this is done, and only once it is done, does it make sense to think about action items such as making work more interesting, providing more job security, or rewarding performance with bonus plans?
“Yes, engagement scores are indicators of how good or bad a work situation is. In most cases, it is better to have higher rather than lower engagement scores, but in order to take action directed towards improving organizational performance, the items need to be looked at separately and used to make data-based changes that will drive employee retention, performance, and commitment.”
And he bangs onto about surveying people’s feelings for no specific purpose with which I agree too.
And I really love his point that people are different and motivated by different things at different times for different reasons. That’s a great point and a fundamental starting point for any workplace leader thinking and planning. He’s also right about writers trying to grab attention for the books which I certainly stress in my own book ‘The Brain-Based Boss’ available at www.terrywilliams.info/books 😉
This article out of ‘Medical Daily’ cites some research published in ‘Psychological Science’. It seems that our perception of the passing of time is affected by positive approach motivation (fun.) This is as true at work as it is anywhere else. If you gotta be there no matter what to make rent, you may as well not be miserable while you’re there (at the very least.) If nothing else, the days will go by quicker. That said, here’s another blogger’s point of view, with which I agree, that employee engagement isn’t always about fun.
I spent quite a few years performing stand-up comedy. My speaking and MCing for corporates and at conferences still involves a lot of humour but I’ve been winding down my pure comedy activities for a couple of years as I’ve been increasing my efforts on training and writing. BUT this past couple of weeks for a couple of reasons, my passion and energy has bounced back for comedy and I’ve done a couple of gigs. All new material. Terrifying and exciting myself. And they’ve gone surprisingly well. I’m once again keen to tear it up a bit.
Comedians get a prescribed timeslot. My gigs were 8 minutes and 20 minutes. You get flashed a red light when your time is up. It’s the 2nd worst thing to do to go over time. When it’s going well and you’re having fun, time flies.
I hope you brain-based bosses know this intuitively. It’s great there’s some research to back it up. I think I’m posting this one just for me…