Job satisfaction is one of the bugbears of the 21st century. We’re awash with statistics which tell us that western economies are plagued with unengaged workers, plodding glumly to the office to do the bare minimum possible.
On top of this, we know that our societies are ageing. We’re having fewer children. No longer can we look forward to an ever-growing procession of bright young minds to refresh our workforces. We need to do more with what we have.
These are not HR issues. These are CEO issues. Organisations need to think carefully about how they attract talent, how they develop new leaders and the opportunities they offer. To do this, they need to get to grips with engagement.
This plays into an old preconception about what people find engaging and motivating, and it’s something we’ve been talking about for a long time. Historically, the assumption is that pay motivates people. And while we all get up in the morning with the ultimate aim of paying the mortgage and feeding ourselves and our families, research tends to show us that pay as a motivator offers diminishing returns of engagement. Now, in 2019, we know that the world of work has an awful lot more to offer us than an annual 3% pay rise, if indeed we’re lucky enough to get that. We see - even if we’re not offered it ourselves - that some organisations take work/life balance seriously; they offer the chance to work remotely; they promote recognition and give clear and frequent feedback. These things are almost the exact opposite of the annual review (where tension builds for weeks and ends either with the short-term fillip of a raise / bonus or disappointment). This is about getting the environment right, and reminding your people, every day, that they’re valued and that the organisation needs their support to achieve its wider goals.
If you create the right environment for people to thrive, the rewards can be surprising. The Utrecht Work Engagement Scale looks at three categories in calculating how engaged people are with their work: Vigour, Dedication and Absorption. Vigour looks at energy, positivity and resilience in the face of setbacks; Dedication looks at how invested and proud you are of the work you do; and Absorption explores the extent to which you’re able to immerse yourself in your tasks. Even a cursory glance at these should be enough to confirm their importance. They’re the opposite of cynicism and detachment. They’re candid, open and positive feelings. Who wouldn’t want more of this, both in their own life or those of the people they employ?
The advantage we have, as a performance management business, is that we already promote many of the behaviours that create this candid environment. We suggest that managers meet regularly with their team members to encourage open dialogue. We suggest that check-ins be future-focussed and designed to help the employee achieve what matters most (both to themselves and to the organisation). We believe that real clarity, both on employee goals and the wider business objectives they’re linked to, is the best way to prioritise work on an ongoing basis. As Josh Bersin said in a Brighttalk webinar recently, always-on performance management serves two vital business functions right now: helping companies with non-traditional network structures to get people leadership-ready; and developing engagement with the individual.
When you ask people what matters most to them at work, the answer is pretty consistent. It’s not free food, or ‘bring your dog to work’ day, or massages. They want the actual job to be better and more fulfilling. We shouldn’t be trying to make people forget about that nasty job they’re supposed to be doing every day by plying them with treats. We should be making the job better: clearer, more rewarding and with the chance to see real progression. This is engagement for the everyday. It’s not a one-off initiative, it’s a culture.
Yes, it’s also a commitment. It means managers need more time to manage and leadership needs to share clear strategic goals. But it approaches the challenge of disengaged employees in a holistic way. If your people are struggling - with work processes, with their workload, with understanding the strategy - you need to know this. And you need to know it now, in real-time, rather than six months after the event. This is where performance management and engagement become two sides of the same coin. The one feeds the other. Creating that loop may be the most motivating and rewarding thing you do for your business this year.