The employee benefit world has a mantra ‘improve benefits improve engagement’ but is it really that simple? Can a strategy to recognise and reward lead directly to higher engagement; or are we just preaching to the converted and are there more fundamental ‘bases’ to reach before we can really start to engage all employees?
In my experience ‘improve benefits improve engagement’ is a key factor in engagement but it’s not the start point, it’s third base. I use the baseball diamond as a way of explaining the engagement journey, you always start at home base i.e., ENGAGEMENT, or more specifically its antithesis DISENGAGEMENT. To engage employees (a home run in baseball), you must pass through all four bases and to help remember the bases I use the acronym CARE.
Organisations who are not connected to their employees find the opportunity for engagement extremely limited. Over the last 10 years I’ve worked with businesses that are highly connected and highly engaged and others who are barely held together. Those that are disconnected use simple employment contracts with draconian rules to implement coercive management styles to keep employees focused on work. Engaged business overcome the challenges of digital disconnection, which some sectors face, and embrace a multi-channel approach with two-way employee communications. Employee benefit platforms can help control and coordinate communications, but implementation and onboarding are key to the success of these platforms; a build it (or buy it) and they will come approach is not enough, connecting with employees takes time, empathy, and effort.
It may be a truism that employees are people, but this means they are more than a resource. People have needs and if we want to engage with them, we must assure that their physical, security, social, esteem and cognitive needs are met otherwise they will be distracted, engaged in meeting their [basic] needs, and disengaged from work. Engagement is achieved when employees are actively seeking to meet their cognitive needs. How many of your employees have challenges to their Physical Needs – usually mental and physical health issues? How many have challenges in terms of their Security Needs – usually financial issues? How many have challenges to their Social Needs – societal and or social challenges? And how many employees just don’t feel recognised. Once connected you need to assure employees basic needs are met before your reward strategy can start to engage them.
Many businesses invest in reward and recognition platforms as a way of driving engagement; usually for those already engaged. Benefits platforms are a great way to connect with employees, usually digitally, and they aggregate benefits and provide employees with a way of accessing them, providing they are not digitally disconnected. Reward and recognition solutions don’t have to be expensive, in many of the businesses, a simple thank goes a long way and employees are usually aware of budget and finance restrictions so don’t always expect financial recognition. Benefits solutions can help assure employees with cycle to work, employee assistance programmes (EAP) and online GP facilities providing solutions to physical, security or social challenges. But remember some people feel pressured being recognised and don’t want to stand up and collect awards so an empathetic approach is always important.
If you have successfully passed through the first three bases you are in a great place to engage employees and for your employees to engage with you [and their work]. Most businesses have highly engaged workforce, they are just engaged in non-work challenges. Hence the need to disengage before you can engage. If you start at third base, you have missed the most important steps for engagement, and only those who are fortunate enough to be connected and free from significant life challenges will be engaged, and they probably were already.
So if you want to develop an employee engagement strategy you need to CARE about them, more specifically you need to have a (dis)engagement strategy. You need to ensure that you can Connect with all your employees, ensure that they feel Assured in their lives, and then and only then should you Reward and Recognise them for their efforts. If you can get to third base successfully you are only a short stroll to a home run and Engagement, but this will only happen if you keep ‘loading’ the bases. There is no short cut to third base!