Beyond Engagement



Have you ever contemplated the things that would make your work life more perfect or how to love what you do just a little more? If so, you aren’t alone. Employee engagement is a hot topic and very ‘on trend’ right now. For example, the Energy Project along with the Harvard Business Review worked together to conduct a survey that addresses the question of why we all hate work and the Gallup pollsters have actually created an employee engagement index. Behavioral economists want to know what makes employees care about their work, and numerous researchers, analysts, and writers have all tried to understand the subject of employee engagement.

Several consistent finding do emerge from some of the researchers. First of all, money is not the best incentive over a long time period. Despite what the experts say, I personally would never turn down a salary increase. But, it’s easy to see that a one-time financial bump is just that and not a true incentive that lasts over the long term. The behavioral economists found that cash bonuses basically act like performance bribes. The performance effects of bonuses are said to barely last one day.

Many experts have also said one of the keys to unlocking employee engagement is autonomy. Autonomy asks that employees be allowed to self-direct their own behavior in terms of doing what they need to do, when and how they need to do it, without having to be constrained by bureaucratic rules. Something here rings true but autonomy also asks that employers trust their employees. The Energy project found that trust is a tall order. Employers do not believe employees will work without some type of monitoring and it was also found that as staff do not feel trusted, their engagement levels (and productivity) decline.

The experts all identified several other motivators. They all said happy motivated employees need some level of challenge to feel a sense of mastery. Greater effort equals greater pride and it was found that people enjoy being able to take a deeper dive into the things they do. Additionally, work is more rewarding when there is a sense of purpose. That purpose should relate to a feeling that what you’re doing makes an impact.

So, motivation and engagement are related to several factors, the least of which is money. However, at the end of the day, productivity is connected to how happy people feel while they are on the job. I say there’s one additional twist to all this.

What about your organization’s credibility? Credibility is built or destroyed based on whether or not your actions are authentic, believable, and honorable. What if you got bonuses, had a great deal of autonomy, had proven your competency, and performed work that had social meaning but you found out that your employer was not behaving honorably? What if you found out that your employer’s business processes placed you and all the other employees in a tenuous position? What if the product was a lie or the service was a sham? How would you feel if your agency was untruthful to its stakeholders, its clients, or its own staff? If any of these are true it sends an unspoken but crystal clear message that tells employees they cannot ‘lean in’ to the mission because that thing, that concept, that dream they should believe in does not really exist. People might go along in the short run but this will only last until the truth is exposed.

Ethical issues are the strongest test for credibility. Get a handle on credibility by asking yourself the following questions: is it legal, does the situation require that I lie about the process or the results, am I acting fairly and would I want to be treated in this manner, will I have to hide or keep my actions secret, how would I feel if the details appeared in the media, how do I feel internally about this, am I anxious, fearful, or does my conscious bother me? Depending on your answers to these questions you may have to reconcile these issues before you can truly love what you do and become fully engaged.

Yolanda Smith is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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