Indeed, the recession has provided fertile ground for the genesis of a number of new concepts. One in particular, now a popular phrase among management and HR professionals following its inception in the media, is ‘employee engagement’. From the incentive, motivation and sales industry media to the HR, PR and internal communications sectors, everyone seemed to have an angle on this and it is widely used when discussing issues on staff motivation, loyalty, retention, rewards and recognition.
But, as with all concepts, times change and ideas need to evolve, so I would like to coin a new phrase that, I hope, reflects the need for continuous development in employee motivation strategy: Employee Re-engagement.
In real terms ‘employee engagement’ was introduced to summarise the art of encouraging employees to buy-in to the goals, ambitions and corporate ethos of an organisation in a way that will inspire them to want to proactively drive the business forward and generate success. It aims to emphasise to the individual that they are an integral part of the organisation and that their efforts will directly contribute towards achieving success. The engaged employee will feel personally rewarded by the opportunities and successes that are created by their hard work as well as the recognition that they will receive from their employer for driving the business forward. An engaged employee is motivated and loyal, and a motivated and loyal employee is a productive one.
The concept really came to the fore as the recession hit. While workforces witnessed redundancies, salary-freezes and their bonuses being retracted, the challenge to keep staff motivated and engaged became a far greater one. This was often complicated further as the staff that were retained would often be required to take on extra responsibilities and work longer hours in order to cover the deficit created by downsizing. With all of these additional strains on the working culture, organisations needed to find new ways of retaining their best performers to help see them through the difficult times and ‘employee engagement’ was coined as the all-encompassing answer to this conundrum.
As an employee motivation expert I work with numerous organisations wanting to implement a new strategy that will help them to achieve this holy grail of employee engagement that they have read so much about. To do so requires careful research and planning. First, a detailed breakdown of the organisation’s overall strategic objectives must be communicated to the workforce at every level, explaining the goals that, collectively, the organisation wishes to achieve. Then, on an individual basis, each employee must have their subsidiary, personal targets outlined with an explanation of how achieving these will contribute to the bigger picture. This will involve a clear definition of what ‘good’ actually looks like as well as a transparent method of monitoring and measuring performance by which employees can gauge themselves. The next step is to introduce an aspirational incentive reward structure that recognises those who achieve and exceed their personal goals – at all times reinforcing the corporate ethos.
This really began as an idea relating most directly to sales executives who needed to be engaged properly in order to ‘sell, sell, sell’, especially during the downturn. However, since the Glengarry Glen Ross sales ethos of ‘Always Be Closing’ is not necessarily the key driver for the wider workforce, the concept was quickly appropriated for all productivity requirements, from reducing waste to encouraging better customer service. Organisations from all different sectors began implementing employee engagement strategies based on their own distinct set of objectives.
A ‘one-size fits all’ approach to employee engagement, therefore, simply isn’t an option here. Engagement programmes have to be tailored to each individual’s needs, attitude and status if they are to be effective in improving productivity and achieving objectives.
So you adopted an employee engagement programme, increased productivity and achieved your objective of reducing costs, in spite of the difficult climate. Great. “Well”, you continue, “we’re now all bored again”. Or perhaps the issue is that employees that were engaged to begin with started to face new difficulties and frustrations that caused their drive and commitment to dwindle. Perhaps, also, there are younger, less experienced staff that missed a few training sessions and may never have been fully engaged.
Unfortunately, here lies the greatest challenge in employee motivation – maintaining momentum. The fact is that attitudes and situations will change and the goal posts need to be constantly shifted. So here is a new concept for organisations seeking to maintain momentum: ‘employee re-engagement, and re-engagement, and re-engagement again’. Not quite so catchy, but a better reflection of the situation and challenge.
No doubt over the next year, as Britain continues to work its way out of the recession, the media will invent new concepts that will be adopted by the general public to become the buzzwords of tomorrow, perhaps even better than mine. But identifying changes in attitudes is not only the task of the savvy journalist striving to sum up a current state with a catchy new phrase. It is also the task of the employer that seeks to get the best out of its workforce. The difference, however, is that while media concepts inevitably come and go, maintaining productivity through motivation strategy must be a continuous process.