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Which Workplace Perks Enhance Employee Engagement?

perksNo potential superstar employee is going to reject the trappings of success you offer but will the free petrol, subsidised healthcare or at-desk massages actually improve their engagement and performance. Some perks do and some perks don’t and it depends. This post citing some recent Gallup research is revealing.

“Gallup found that access to flexible work time, which is considered a more mainstream workplace perk, is related to increased employee engagement.”

“…remote workers are slightly more engaged than onsite workers…”

One of the usual drivers of motivation and engagement is autonomy – a sense of control or, at least influence, over if not what we do, at least how we do it. That’s tough to create or allow in many jobs, especially routine or entry-level ones but if you can generate it to a degree, it can positively influence engagement and thus drive the associated productivity benefits. Something like flexi-time is a good compromise, where it is do-able, in generating this sense of influence / autonomy. Gallup does warn though of the “diminishing returns” which is worthy of note.

“…an engaged management team and a positive work environment are more beneficial than housecleaning and bowling alleys.”

Don’t deny already engaged employees their perks if you wish to provide them and it makes you feel good but clearly many are not drivers of engagement or motivators. Far more effective are the low-cost but disturbingly rare ‘perks’ of positive feedback and non-tolerance of poor performance. Perks, by definition, are extras and these two I just mentioned shouldn’t be extras, yet the behaviour of many workplace leaders makes it seem like they are. It’s easier to throw trinkets but far less effective.

Although, if the trinket you’re throwing is a bowling ball in the company lanes, that’s almost certainly a health and safety issue.

Rewards – Perks For Productivity or Insult To Injury?

Are little non-cash rewards like movie passes etc just the grown-up equivalent of a primary school gold star &, if so, is that a bad thing?

Leaders, managers, supervisors – all those who are charged with the responsibility of producing improved results through other people – are constantly on the look-out for ways to provide behaviour reinforcement to those people. Why? Because, for their entire careers, that’s what they’ve been taught is the smart thing to do. Maybe they’ve even had some experience of it working. Carrots and sticks, positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, punishment and extinction (look it up.) It sounds plausible – reward the behaviours we want more of and disincentify those we want less, or none, of. Antecedent, behaviour and consequence. To this approach, in general terms I say, “Yeah Nah.”

Christopher Shea recently blogged briefly in the Wall Street Journal about rewards – gifts for staff for performances rendered. It’s interesting. It references a German economist’s study of the relative effectiveness of little cash rewards versus little equivalent gifty rewards. The moral of the story and it’s hard to argue with this = it’s the thought that counts. Check it out.

If you’re in a leadership role & you’re seriously considering slapping a $7 coffee mug on someone’s desk for “doing a bang-up job and just being a real trooper”, then maybe you should stop reading blogs about leadership and start reading fortunes in chicken entrails? That way you might be awakened to the possible future consequences of such a dog-treat approach to motivating people. If it’s the thought that counts (and it is) then give the thought via ongoing, sincere, specific, esteem-building, behaviour-based and timely feedback. Put the $7 in a jar. Soon enough, it’ll add up to a morning tea team soiree which is probably more effective than individual tokens which may do more harm than good.

Interesting as it was, that study was even more so after some recent reading I’ve been doing on the lie that is behavioral reinforcement in the workplace. Employees are grown-up human beings not kids or dogs. Chucking them a treat is supposed to reinforce ongoing performance improvement? I think that is true sometimes and people in robotic linear task-oriented jobs may well respond to these if they are done well.

Neverthless, if you have ordered 144 coffee mugs printed with the slogan, ‘You don’t have to be mired in 19th century management thinking to work here but it helps’ you may as well distribute them to your team – assuming they haven’t left for better jobs at the performing seals’ circus.

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