There’s no doubt that times are still tough for businesses across the globe, and in order to survive, they need to enhance their productivity and retain talent. To do this, it is increasingly being recognised by HR departments that keeping staff motivated is fundamental and, as a result, organisations are looking to find new ways to enhance employee engagement.

Last month, Channel 4 aired ‘Show Me Your Money’, which explored the issue of pay transparency at Pimlico Plumbers. The Managing Director, Charlie Mullins, decided to put a pay structure in place so that the system could be much fairer and staff would be treated more equally. This meant that employees were asked to disclose their pay in front of each other, revealing huge disparities – in one instance there was a difference of £10,000 in the salary of two people doing the same job.

The aim was to persuade those who were highly paid to take a pay cut so that others could get a rise. However, understandably, this caused a lot of tension amongst staff, and many were unwilling to do this at first.

Eventually, though, a common ground was reached; garage workers came up with a way to save £30,000 which could be shared amongst employees, and other highly paid staff agreed to a pay cut. The result was that there was a greater sense of equality and understanding of each other.

However, it needs to be recognised that this experiment could have gone either way. When their pay was first disclosed, there was huge upset, with those earning highly feeling guilty and embarrassed, and those with a lower salary feeling undervalued. If staff hadn’t have managed to reach an agreement, the working environment would have stayed like this, resulting in resignations, an alteration of the whole company structure, and a shattered reputation.

There are many aspects of the work environment that can lead to higher levels of motivation.  At a&dc, for example, our Engagement Questionnaire is designed to precisely measure employee engagement and identify solutions to enhance it in your organisation.  

When reviewing 221 models of employee engagement, a&dc identified fifteen core features of any work environment that drive employees to be more engaged, with financial rewards being one of them. Interestingly, in our own research, we found that financial reward is not actually one of the strongest drivers of engagement.

In this research, we asked 1,002 UK working adults across 32 industry sectors the extent that they currently have these features of the work environment and their levels of engagement. We then examined the strength of this relationship to see which features have the strongest impact on an employee’s engagement. Financial reward, out of the fifteen drivers, was actually ranked as having the ninth strongest relationship, which is relatively low.

So which features of the work environment showed to have the strongest impact on employees’ engagement?

  1. Having work that they find interesting, challenging and is varied
  2. Having the opportunity at work to regularly use their strengths and expertise 
  3. Having an organisation that supports development and a job that provides opportunities to learn new knowledge and skills

This highlights the need to think before implementing any strategy to enhance engagement – could it potentially do more harm than good.

Charlie Mullins took a huge risk, but as you can see from our research  there are  easier, more effective ways to encourage engagement, which don’t carry the same amount of danger. It’s often simple things that matter to an employee – such as being challenged and given variety in their job – and if staff feel they have an emotional connection with their work, they are more likely to strive to deliver peak performance.