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Employee culture: Why meaning trumps money

360 Performance Evaluation Gone Bad!

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Many of you remember a time when having a job meant punching the clock, doing your work, and simply making a living. Today, we hear about amazing office cultures, remote work opportunities, and flexible hours—a far cry from the offices of yesteryear. It may seem like the way of the future is “cool” Silicon-Valley-esque cultures, but really, neither of these office environments is the ideal.

Somewhere along the line, the idea of true employee engagement got misinterpreted.

Throwing better pay and perks at employees is not going to do anything in the way of motivating them to do their best work. Despite what most may think, only 12% of employees voluntarily leave their employer for more money. In actuality, half of all employees would take a pay decrease if it meant a more worthwhile work experience.

What employees crave is meaning—how their role and talents fit into the bigger picture of the company mission. It’s our job as leaders to get inside the hearts and minds of our people and truly understand what makes them tick.

Three ways to ensure true employee engagement:

If you’re feeling pressured to buy an office foosball table or create a killer snack bar for the sake of employee engagement, don’t. While these perks can be positive ways to thank employees for their hard work or make them feel more comfortable while they’re at the office, they don’t do much in the way of motivating people to take a greater stake in the company.

Here are just a few ways you can foster real engagement over mere satisfaction in your company:

  1. Prioritize meaningful work over “fun.”

Any good parent knows that what’s best for a child is not always what’s fun. The same goes for managers and their team members. Creating a “fun” environment to work in is not nearly as important as giving them work that suits their strengths, contributes to the company’s mission and greater “why,” and gives them an outlet to thrive. When their talents and education are wasted on busy work, office politics, and indecision, it creates an unhealthy disengagement between them and your company mission.

Of course, this shouldn’t mean cutting out fun team activities altogether—there’s still an important need for team culture and camaraderie. It just shouldn’t be the backbone of your employee engagement strategy.

  1. Gather feedback so employees feel heard.

According to neuroeconomist and author Paul Zak, a 10% increase in an employee’s trust of his or her leader produces the same effects as a 36% increase in salary. To build that trust, employees need a channel to be heard and voice their opinions, whether through one-on-one meetings, town halls, regular polls/surveys, etc. When they feel heard, employees are more likely to proactively express opinions about how to improve processes and make work better, benefiting you, your team, and the company.

Take T-H Marine, an Alabama-based boating supply manufacturer. After administering an employee engagement survey, they discovered that their production team was struggling with utilization—the effective use of their abilities and skills. Upon digging deeper, leadership found that production was unhappy with having to lift heavy materials by sheer force instead of with the aid of machines. From there, the company purchased leveling tables on the shop floor that made it easier for production to move equipment, resulting in a 30% increase in productivity.

Just think—a simple fix that resulted in increased business value, all because employees were able to share their feedback.

  1. Ask questions that assess engagement rather than happiness.

While asking for employee feedback is always a good thing, it’s just as important to ask the right questions that result in the data you need to take the right action. This means choosing survey methods that are research-based and psychometrically valid instead of making up questions on your own. For instance:

Don’t ask: Do you like your workspace?

Do ask: Is your workspace conducive to helping you intensely focus and get work done?

Employees today want more out of work. They want to be engaged. By prioritizing meaningful work over fun, giving employees a voice, and asking the right questions, you can create a work environment that’s just as productive as it is enjoyable to be in.


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