Build a strong foundation before adding the juice bar
For 26 years, we’ve been chasing an elusive goal – employee engagement. In 1990, Boston University professor William Kahn published a research paper that sought to explain why some employees connected with their work more personally than other employees. He discovered something he called "engagement". We’ve been after it ever since. At that time, the research showed that only about 30% of employees were "engaged". Today, that number hasn’t really changed. Obviously, we’re doing something wrong, and keep on doing it. Sound familiar?
While I’m not sure what the answer (or, more likely, answers) is, I believe I know one huge obstacle. We simply fail to build a strong foundation. Without that, there is nothing to support all those nice-to-have perks that we think we must have in order to get "engaged" employees. Of course, it seems clear that all those desirable perks don’t really add much to the engagement formula, either. If you don’t have a proper foundation, you’ll miss other, equally important concepts as well. Do you want a culture of respect and civility? Do you want professional and business growth? Start with your foundation.
Many big companies and even start-ups have focused on adding perks to their workplaces in some pretty impressive ways. In-office yoga and massages, X-box, PlayStation, and yes the ubiquitous Foosball tables. Google with its bocce-ball courts or spa services is another good example. While I’m sure that some of these things make some of the employees happy, some of the time, happiness does not promote engagement or productivity.
A solid HR foundation should encompass at least the following:
- Improve performance management processes and accountability
- Provide employee training and development
- Enhance effectiveness of the senior management team
- Improve leadership development programs
- Maintain appropriate compliance standards
No combination of spa services, game rooms or juice bars will fix a broken culture and bad management. If you don’t think this is important take a current look at Fox News, Uber, our military academies, Sterling Jewelers, and many more. These are just the cases that have hit the national news. Ask these companies if the PlayStation prevented the situations they’re now facing.
Gallup’s surveys consistently show that the most powerful driver of engagement is high-quality leadership and coaching. At least 70% of the variance in engagement scores across business units comes from employees’ feelings about the managers to whom they report.
Satisfied or happy employees are not necessarily engaged. And engaged employees are the ones who work hardest, stay longest, and perform best.
"If you're engaged, you know what's expected of you at work, you feel connected to people you work with, and you want to be there," says Jim Harter, Ph.D., Gallup's chief scientist of workplace management and wellbeing. "You feel a part of something significant, so you're more likely to want to be part of a solution, to be part of a bigger tribe. All that has positive performance consequences for teams and organizations."
Developing your leaders and their leadership skills is imperative. Many of the qualities that drive effective management are learned behaviors: good communication, project management, conflict resolution, ethical behavior and more. HR can foster this development if given the opportunity and appropriate resources.
Gallup’s State of the American Workplace is a comprehensive report, but worth the read. For easier reading and finding your interest, the subsections are broken out. Take a look.
For a great summary of the report, head on over to China Gorman at TLNT.