Increasing employee engagement is a priority for most companies.
That’s because having a workforce devoid of enthusiasm can come at a steep price: Lost productivity, absenteeism, workplace accidents, increased health care costs, and high turnover.
But as most HR professionals know, it’s difficult to motivate employees.
Aligning business strategy with motivators
Rewards-punishment systems are popular, but they aren’t the best motivators once an employee’s basic needs are covered. Instead, social and psychological research has shown that intrinsic motivation — deriving joy from the task itself — is a key factor in motivating humans.
Dan Pink is an expert on the intersection of business, work, and behavior, as well as the bestselling author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. As he says, the key to encouraging long-term engagement through intrinsic motivation begins with paying people a fair and standard salary for the industry:
If people… don’t have enough money to support their family, you’re not going to have motivation. You’re not going to have this third, intrinsic drive… The science shows that the best way to use money is to take the issue of money off the people. Pay people enough so that money isn’t an issue, and they can focus on doing great work.”
When basic needs are covered, employees seek growth. Humans have an inherent tendency to seek challenges, to improve their capabilities, and to learn. Employees usually experience this through autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
Most HR best practices for engagement fall into one of these three categories. Let’s examine how companies can align their business strategy with these motivators in order to develop a long-term engagement solution.
Autonomy: Responsibility, accountability to direct our own lives
Granting employees freedom in the workplace can encourage feelings of personal accomplishment and reduce emotional exhaustion. One way to encourage employee autonomy in the workplace is through a flexible work schedule.
In a recent research study titled Do Perks Matter for Employee Retention?, not only was the most desired perk flex time or remote work opportunities — but over 30 percent of respondents were willing to trade a salary increase for this incentive.
Another way to encourage autonomy is by giving employees the freedom to choose which projects to work on or how to execute them. This strategy facilitates trust and requires employees to remain accountable since they have obligations to themselves, as well as their teammates.
When employees can choose when or where to work, what they work on, or even what they wear to work, it drives them to do their best — which leads to higher job satisfaction, productivity, and of course, engagement.
Mastery: The chance to get better at what we do
Helping employees build skills and knowledge not only ensures a highly efficient workforce, but builds confidence and engagement.
Recognition is a critical element that motivates a sense of mastery. Employees want feedback. They want to know exactly how they’re doing and how they can improve.
Leveraging that desire for growth starts with talent development. Proper onboarding, training, and ongoing professional development opportunities are examples of talent development that helps encourage mastery. Some tactics to use during these processes include:
- Performance reviews — To pinpoint strengths and weaknesses;
- Employee surveys — To reveal an employee’s long term aspirations;
- Acknowledgement — To affirm an employee’s expertise and feelings of value;
One of the best ways to combine these strategies with talent development is by using human resources software that helps track the growth, feedback, and recognition process for you. These systems often provide both manager and employee portals to ensure that everyone is on the same page about achievements and progress.
Purpose: Connecting to a larger cause
Employees are motivated when they can care about something that is bigger than themselves. This is why it’s important to clearly define your company mission.
Set clear expectations for your workforce and be transparent about how each employee is measured. By explaining how each position contributes to the organization’s overall mission and business goals, you will foster commitment and engagement.
To expand your business’ cause outside of the corporate world, consider providing volunteer opportunities for employees. Partner with a charity and make giving back part of the company culture. Making time for the entire company to participate in community outreach programs connects the workforce to each other and to something bigger than themselves.
Long term employee engagement isn’t just about creating a productive workforce. You have to treat people well, listen, and encourage growth. You have to invest.
Companies should focus on intrinsic motivation not only because it’s a sustainable form of engagement, but also because increasing employee happiness is the right thing to do.