EngagementEmployee EngagementThe new ‘essential’ of employee engagement and motivation

The new 'essential' of employee engagement and motivation

Employee engagement and motivation is often challenging to build, but easy to ruin in difficult circumstances. HRD Thought Leader Debra Corey argues that the provision of care and support is essential to building a productive, resilient workforce.

There’s no hiding from the change the pandemic has brought into our lives, and in many ways, will remain with us for a long time to come. For example, I for one will never again take for granted essentials like toilet paper, pasta, and flour, storing them away for future shortages. Our employees? They also have seen the importance of essentials, the employee engagement and motivation equivalents of vital home supplies, and will expect to see them used and in-stock in their workplace “cupboard” going forward.

What makes an engaged employee today?

This new essential is so core to employee engagement and motivation that I’ve updated my definition to include it as the fourth part of how you define an engaged employee. Here it is along with the three original parts of the definition from my book Build it: The rebel playbook for employee engagement:

  1. An engaged employee understands and believes in the direction the company is going and feels a part of something bigger than themselves.
  2. An engaged employee understands how their role affects and contributes to the company’s purpose and objectives.
  3. An engaged employee genuinely wants the company to succeed and feels shared success with the company.
  4. New: An engaged employee genuinely believes that their company cares and supports them.

The new importance of care and support

You may be wondering, hasn’t care and support always been an ingredient of employee engagement and motivation? The answer is yes and no. Yes because it has always been an ingredient, and no because it was often considered an ingredient that supported the others, but not considered a key or essential element. Think of it like salt and pepper, yes they make a dish taste better, but the dish would still exist if you didn’t add them.

Care and support are now so critically essential to employee engagement that if they are not provided, all the good you do in other areas of employee engagement will disappear in a blink of an eye. Let me share a true story to bring this point to life.

Employee engagement: difficult to build, easy to break

Before the pandemic, Joe was an extremely engaged employee. He felt that what he and the team were doing mattered (tick #1), he knew how he personally was making a difference to his clients (tick #2) and that he was putting his all into helping his company succeed (tick #3). This continued during the lockdown, in fact, he was even more engaged as he felt that he and the team were having an even bigger impact on their clients, helping them through the challenging times.

But then his company made the decision to re-open the office, informing him that he needed to be there at least three times a week. When he told his manager that he had a medical condition that made him concerned about traveling into the office, his manager told him that it didn’t matter, that he still needed to come into the office. How did this make him feel?  Angry and betrayed. Angry because he had shown his manager that he could be productive working from home, so he felt it was unnecessary and unsafe for him to come into the office. Betrayed because he felt his company did not care about him and his health.

And so in a split second, Joe went from being highly engaged to actively disengaged. For although he still believed in what his company and he were doing, with his company no longer caring and supporting him, he decided that he would no longer care and support them!

A proactive approach to employee engagement

This story shows how care and support have become an essential, a non-negotiable, part of the engagement deal, and for this reason, something we need to not only be aware of, but do something about. We need to fill our “shelves” with policies and programs that show our employees we care and support them. Whether it’s flexible work arrangements, transparent and frequent communications, ongoing and meaningful recognition, or robust and holistic wellbeing programs, we need to weave care and support throughout each and every one of them.

And let’s not forget our managers. They need to understand the role they have to play in delivering care and support. They need to have the skills and tools to lead in this way, and they need to be held accountable, knowing that they are essential ingredients in how they are being asked to lead. Had this happened with Joe’s manager, they would have taken the time to understand Joe’s needs, supported him so that he felt safe, and he in turn would have remained engaged and productive. Now that’s the happy ending our employees deserve and our businesses need!

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