The myths of employee engagement

Save your company from the expensive mistakes of these employee engagement myths.

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By Melanie Pasch

A recent study found that 90% of respondents feel that traditional employee engagement strategies are no longer sufficient.

Employee engagement leads to increased productivity, revenue, and retention and yet remains a great mystery to many companies. It’s certainly a worthy pursuit, so it’s time to cut through the fads and get down to the facts about employee engagement.

1. Wellness programs don’t affect employee engagement – at all

“Beneath surface-level messaging about improving health, most traditional workplace wellness programs were exclusively about slashing employer’s health costs,” Henry Albrecht writes in Forbes. This is perhaps what dooms at-work wellness programs from the get-go. Making employees healthy was a financial endeavor to make workers less costly to insure and take less sick days, saving companies tremendous amounts of money.

Many of these programs didn’t do a good enough job of masking these financial intentions and often fosters resentment among employees. No one wants to feel like their health and well-being is just a monetary figure to their employer or anyone for that matter.

Ironically, there is not enough evidence to support the fact that at-work wellness programs even lower the cost of insuring employees. As Albrecht puts it, “Our research shows that employee engagement and turnover are much bigger drivers of a company’s financial success (or lack thereof) than medical costs.”

2. Trendy perks will not improve employee engagement

While it may seem exciting at first to have a ping-pong table or a PlayStation in the office, the hype has a shorter shelf-life than one might think. Many companies think that these perks give them the upper hand over competing companies in hiring, but in terms of keeping existing employees engaged, it simply doesn’t cut it.

The Adaptation-Level Phenomenon in Psychology explains this quite well. This “is the tendency people have to quickly adapt to a new situation, until that situation becomes the norm. Once the new situation is normal, another new experience is needed — it constantly raises the level for what is new or exciting as each new thing becomes the norm.” In other words, those office games and beer taps will not excite your employees after it becomes the norm and it is sure to become the norm very quickly. Companies will find themselves trying to beat the high of their last perk and find themselves in a rat race of superficial engagement attempts.

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3. Money does not equal loyalty

The same principle can be applied to high salaries and bonuses, once it’s given they become part of employee expectations for the coming year. Expectations will climb and if a company fails to keep up, the disappointment combined with the financial cost may not be the best strategy at least in terms of employee engagement.

Providing competitive salaries and bonuses to your employees is still a must, but don’t make the mistake of thinking high pay will keep employees at your company longer. Money may have been a motivator in getting people to accept your offer and join your company, but money is not a long-term motivator in terms of performance.

According to a report by Consumer Technology Association (CTA), traditional non-salary benefits are seen as key to retaining employees in the next five years; specifically, companies agreed that health insurance (91%), paid time off (87%), and flexible work arrangements (86%) will be the most important benefits in retaining employees over the next five years in addition to incentive compensation and bonuses.

Moreover, the benefits of technical and high-skills training (80%), retirement plans (78%), and professional development programs to hone soft skills (74%) are mentioned as being important among respondents. Most companies believe money is important in keeping employees at their company, but it’s one of many non-monetary factors.

A recent article puts it nicely: “Money is obviously important, but the main component to retention is keeping your top talent happy. And happiness is still one of those things money can’t buy.”

Margaret Graziano writes that “for 80% of the working population the money is not a lever that leads to engagement and buy-in. 40% of people want workplace rewards in terms of more educational opportunities, rewarding and challenging projects, and a sense that they can further their knowledge and career path as a result of working with a specific company or in a certain role. The other 40% of workers want to feel emotionally connected to the mission and service of the organization and to the customers they serve.”

Just because most companies believe money to be a method of employee engagement does not make it a fact.

4. Measuring engagement does not fix it

Many companies recognize the importance of employee engagement but seem to be misdirecting their efforts at measuring employee engagement instead of actually fixing it. Understanding where your employee engagement stands is a great place to begin, but far too often valuable resources are spent on the assessment rather than the solution.

Making visible efforts to measure employee engagement in the form of surveys can often fuel the fire of employee disillusionment with their employers. This happens when companies show that they are indeed measuring engagement but then fail to take the right action to correct the issues. It makes companies look like they lack either empathy or competency.

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5. Employees won’t stay satisfied in their current roles

1 in 4 millennials expect to leave their employees in a year or less. Knowledge workers, especially Millennial and Gen Z employees, will not stay in their roles unless they feel satisfied.

“Companies spend a lot of time and money on retention programs, but they’re missing a key reason why employees pursue new opportunities: they’re bored at work. The majority of those bored employees indicate that the opportunity to learn new skills at their jobs would increase their interest and engagement. Companies should take these numbers very seriously, as they end up eating into their bottom line,” says Darren Shimkus, vice president and general manager for Udemy for Business.

“While nearly half of U.S. employees feel bored at work, the majority (80%) of those surveyed indicate that opportunities to learn new skills would increase their interest and engagement,” a Udemy report found.

The new workforce has new requirements and access to learning and career development opportunities is one of them.

The goal of employee engagement is retention and increased productivity so companies must be sure to arm their employees with the right skills and experiences for them to feel satisfied with not just their current roles, but also their career paths.

Provide Millennial and Gen Z workers with the right ways to develop themselves professional within the company or they will seek these opportunities elsewhere.

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