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Feature: The Secrets of Engaging Employees


DiscussionsHaving employees who are thoroughly motivated and truly engaged with what they are doing is the "holy grail" for many organisations. Dr Charles Woodruffe explains why, and offers advice on how to achieve this ideal condition.

Engaging employees is important whatever the potential of the employee, but it is especially crucial for truly talented people who are likely to have leadership potential either now or in the future. Engaging talented people needs to be a top organisational priority because they are by definition especially precious possessions. They are particularly likely to find another berth if they don’t feel that this one meets their demanding needs for job satisfaction, purpose and sense of self-worth.

This term, engagement, is being used increasingly at an organisational level to denote the idea of an employee being fully intellectually and emotionally committed to a particular job, so that he or she wants to give to that job what is known as discretionary effort. This is the effort which it is not necessary for an employee to give to a job but which he or she wants to give to it.

However, there are still some chief executives and managing directors who think their employees will be motivated to give a great performance simply because the company has hired them. They see money as a cure-all; their logic being that if they pay their employees enough they’ll put up with anything and have no reason to grumble. But this is very faulty and outdated thinking.

Fortunately, there are certain constructive courses of action companies can pursue to make people want to stay with your organisation. And moving literally to the other side of the coin, the very fact that money is not by any means necessarily the main factor in people’s decision to take a job in the first place or to keep working at a job once they have got it, means there is considerable scope for employers to make conscious efforts to offer their employees non-financial motivations that employees crave so much.

Among the most important non-financial motivations are:
· Advancement - people at work set great store by the extent to which they perceive that their job is giving them the opportunity for career advancement.

· Autonomy - a degree of real autonomy, where someone can really get ‘into’ their jobs, is likely to be welcome.

· Civilised treatment - even today, when organisations know perfectly well how expensive it is to recruit good people and how costly and disruptive it can be if good people resign, too many organisations treat people in a brusque, even uncivilised way. The problem may often arise because a line manager or middle manager who is responsible for the people in question is himself or herself working under great stress and, in effect ‘kicks downwards’.

· Employer commitment - people like to feel that their employers are genuinely committed to them and to their careers.

· Environment - a pleasant working environment is always welcome, especially in a high-pressure job where stress caused by a not especially agreeable environment can easily have a strong negative effect on performance.

· Exposure to senior people - most employees like to feel they are noticed by an organisation’s senior people and could approach them for advice and guidance if necessary.

· Praise is awarded when praise is due - one of the classic signs of poor management occurs when staff are given negative feedback for what is perceived as poor performance, but never given positive feedback. Praise where praise is due often requires a negligible amount of time, but the emotional benefits to staff can be enormous

· Support is available - employees like to feel that there is someone available to whom they can turn for advice if they need it.

· The feeling of being challenged - employees like to feel challenged, given that they believe they have the tools and skills to respond to the challenge successfully. Sometimes employees can respond with surprising resilience, energy and commitment to even a really demanding challenge. Of course, too much of a struggle can be counter-productive and induce people to consider jumping ship, but the sense of taking part in a struggle can also be energising.

· The feeling of being trusted - as social animals, we will habitually - and often for very good reasons - withhold trust until we believe that extending this is justified. Employees know this, so the bestowal of trust is quite rightly regarded as extremely important.

· The feeling of working for a good and reliable organisation - people want to be proud of their jobs and of the organisations they work for. People are unlikely to have much staying power at an organisation they perceive, rightly or wrongly, as a cowboy outfit.

· The feeling of working on useful assignments - every employee, no matter which rung they accommodate on the corporate hierarchy, wants to feel important and valued, and there is no better way of helping an employee feel this than by giving him or her some genuinely significant assignment on which to work

· The work/life balance is respected - employees know they are going to have to work hard, but an employer who shows sensitivity to work/life balance issues is very likely to outscore one who doesn’t.

Ultimately, all these elements of positive motivation are contributing factors to the overall level of engagement the employee brings to his or her job.
* Dr Charles Woodruffe is managing director of HR consultancy Human Assets.


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