Are You Throwing Money to the Wind?

Mar 30, 2017

A recent HBR Blog mentioned that employee engagement scores  remain low even though organizations are spending millions – 100s of millions – of dollars to improve engagement. Why such poor results? The reason given is that most engagement initiatives are nothing more than ‘an adrenaline shot’ rather than seeking sustainable solutions and experiences that create a place where people want to work. Such sustainable experiences change working and being productive to “want to’s,” not “need or have to’s.”

It’s not often that so much has been spent for so little return. Not only is there no significant improvement in productivity or engagement, but also our experience is that these adrenaline shots often actually increase employee cynicism and disengagement. The exact opposite outcomes of what is desired! Employees wait to make fun of the ‘flavor of the month’ initiative and then wait for it to fail. Employees know that the new initiative has nothing to do with caring about them, or actually improving what matters.

So, why this myopic focus to introduce a perk or initiative that does not result in the intended outcome, and may inevitably cause more harm? Certainly the intentions – however misguided – are good. Perhaps it’s because employees initially like the new perk so there seems to be an instant boost of engagement. When that boost wanes, some leaders may think, why not try again? Unfortunately, this may lead to a cyclic downward spiral.

Another reason to consider is that the initiatives – although a bit pricey – are easy, almost effortless. This circles to the old adage, if it’s too good to be true… it is. Most leaders realize that there can’t be an off the shelf, one size fits all approach that would be successful for any organization. Intuitively this is known. Yet that’s what is being purchased – an adrenaline shot that isn’t customized to the needs of the organization.

And this leads to a final reason, at least for this blog, that perhaps organizations opt for the short-term boost rather than diving deeper. These boosts take less effort than changing employee work experiences. This level of transformation requires a deeper dive to address the culture and climate of the work environment. This is messier and more difficulty than merely purchasing an adrenaline boost.

But changing the work experience is what is needed and what works to increase engagement. Messier? Maybe. More difficult? Certainly. But lasting? Yes – so worth the effort. Invest in what will matter the most – to the organization and employees – by building a sustainable employee experience that forms a more caring and resilient work environment. Interestingly, doing so creates a great place to work that increases employee well-being, as well as organization profits, innovation, productivity, retention, and talent attraction.

AND, it’s not as difficult as you might think. Contact us to discuss ideas. We enjoy brainstorming options! No strings attached. The author of the HBR Blog takes a different approach, and you can read more here: Why the Millions We Spend on Engagement Buys So Little.