The nature of the modern organization is evolving as technology enhances interactions, and multi-generational teams form. The ability to motivate and engage employees determines the level of success as new dynamics emerge. But the philosophies regarding employee engagement and motivation are shifting; people are no longer attracted by the highest salary or company benefits alone!
Research emphasizes intrinsic motivators being more effective in stimulating employees. Paul Marciano, a thought leader on employee engagement, explains that "engaged employees work hard for the sake of the organization and because it gives them a feeling of fulfillment". The challenge for organizations is to tap into the psychological aspects that promote happiness, collaboration and productivity.
Some of the world's most profitable companies are succeeding because they understand that investing in employee happiness isn't something they have to do, it's something they should do. For example, Google provides effective employee wellness programs, focusing on subsidized meals and snacks, having on-site physicians, and providing transportation with WiFi for employees. Apple employee benefits start immediately, even for part-time employees, and they have regular company events to encourage interaction and collaboration between teams.
In his book, The Best Place to Work, Friedman describes different techniques for creating an extraordinary workplace. He explains that "the more invested and enthusiastic people are about their work, the more successful their organization is on a variety of metrics."
Here are a few methods to consider when developing your employee engagement strategies!
Encourage your teams to play more
Ever wondered why high performing organizations have foosball and pool tables in their offices? Research tells us that playing is vital to innovation, change and learning. When play is introduced into the workplace, it encourages creativity, freedom, unconscious thinking and opportunities to energize.
- Unconscious thought allows people to process large amounts of information more effectively and gives the mind the freedom to discover associations between concepts. It also supports creative problem solving, which can lead to better decision making.
- By putting ourselves into a child-like mindset, it creates room for alternate ways of thinking and exploring new possibilities.
- Engaging in play allows employees to take on challenges to practice problem solving, explore new options and encourages risk-taking in a safe environment. These all lead to increased curiosity and interest, which benefits work and levels of engagement.
- By encouraging employees to be more curious and take risks, it can help in overcoming the fear of failure. Friedman explains, "when your attempt rate is high, each individual failure becomes a lot less significant," and as learnings are reapplied, it creates a more reliable path to success.
Consider your workspace design
Highly successful companies such as Google and Cisco invest in smart office designs to inspire thinking, allow for creativity and collaboration and demonstrate care for employees. Here are some of the techniques they employ:
- Having a view of the outdoors has been found to improve productivity in the workplace. The addition of spaces that allow us to step into or be close to nature can help restore mental reserves and provide a distraction for unconscious thought.
- The office space can be used to communicate with employees and can convey important messages related to the company's goals or leadership expectations. A possible option is to include employees in the design decisions to create a personal connection to the space.
- Friedman states that the use of colour can affect people's thinking, as we have been conditioned to associate different meanings with various colours.
- Red is associated with alarm bells and warning signals – when we see red, we are more alert and vigilant.
- Blue is more tranquil and calming, and could be used in "quiet rooms".
- Yellow represents happiness and inspires creativity.
Set the example
Leaders set the culture and expected behaviours within the organization. One person can make a difference by setting an example, and it starts with our leaders.
- Know when to recognize publicly versus privately: Acknowledging hard work and contributions is essential to keeping employees engaged, however, these actions should be recognized differently. Friedman suggests using "public recognition to draw attention to behaviours that are consistent with the culture that you are trying to promote, and that you'd like others to mimic". Private recognition could be used for other actions worthy of acknowledgement but which may not align fully with the workplace culture.
- Facing an employee with a bad attitude? Shake up their network: Employees are often influenced by the people around them, and this could be a useful tactic to change behaviour. For instance, guide underperforming employees by assigning them to new projects or new workmates. This approach can reset errant practices and align them with the desired result.
- Distance yourself from colleagues with a negative influence: Continuing from the previous principle, emotional cues, body language and expressions are influenced by the people and actions around them. Limit the exposure to "negative Nellies" or those who drain much-needed energy; instead, try to mingle with those who encourage and inspire new thinking.
What happy workplaces can learn from a casino
Friedman explains that casinos use subtle techniques to shape our thinking, sway our moods and create a euphoric environment to encourage risk-taking. "When we're feeling good about our lives, we connect with others more easily, think more optimistically, and free up valuable mental resources to focus on novel ideas." What can be done to create happiness in the workplace?
- Small, frequent pleasures can keep us happy longer than large, infrequent ones: Schedule smaller and more frequent positive events to boost employee morale. For example, instead of throwing a big holiday party, opt for scaled-down seasonal get-togethers. Also, inexpensive office perks demonstrate care for employees, e.g. the flexibility to work from home or a fancy coffee machine in the break room. Employees are motivated to work harder when they feel cared for.
- Experiences are more rewarding than objects: The thrill of life experiences like a vacation or a group outing tend to have a more lasting effect than a physical reward, like a new TV. These experiences encourage growth through exposure to new environments and foster intellectual curiosity. They can also boost the level of engagement and collaboration between teams.
- Unexpected actions deliver a bigger thrill: Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky states in her book, The Myths of Happiness, that a continuous stream of surprises helps to keep people engaged. One tactic could be to surprise employees with unusual or unexpected treats. For example, decorate the office with balloons in preparation for a holiday or have a massage therapist come in for a day to provide some stress relief.
Gallup's global studies indicate that only 13% of employees worldwide are actively engaged at work. Leaders have the power to turn this around and improve productivity for employees and organizations. Being innovative and seeking new options to engage the workforce creates opportunities for employees to adopt the same mindset. The winning combination of innovative leadership and engaged employees is the key to unlocking future potential.