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Jack Wiley

the Kenexa High Performance Institute

Executive Director

Read more about Jack Wiley

Seven secrets to staff engagement


The fundamental role of HR is to motivate the right people to do the right things at the right time.

This situation puts the spotlight on how to boost employee engagement and ensure that workers are committed to the organisation. If you want staff to perform effectively, what are you going to give them in return?
The obvious answer is pay. But our research shows that only a quarter of employees actually identify pay and benefits as their number one ‘want’. This means that three quarters desire something else.
Over the last 30 years, we’ve surveyed over 200,000 workers around the world, asking them: ‘what is the most important thing you want from your employer?’ Time and again, the same seven answers came back no matter what country, industry or job role people had or belonged to.
Moreover, when organisations gave staff what they desired, engagement levels were on average 117% higher; operational performance was 64% better; customer satisfaction levels improved significantly and ‘return on asset’ levels were up to 10 times greater than was previously the case.
So what are these seven secrets to engagement? With apologies to Aretha Franklin fans, they have been brought together under the acronym ‘R.E.S.P.E.C.T’, which stands for:
1. Recognition
Employees want ‘a pat on the back’ and for their views to count. Essentially, each individual wants to be recognised and appreciated as a valued team member – particularly by the person who should be most familiar with their work: their line manager.
HR practitioners can help by encouraging managers to recognise and appreciate people for the work they do. But managers also need to close the gap between employees undertaking a certain action and it being given the recognition that it deserves.
Employee performance should likewise not simply be ignored until the annual review season comes around again – and managers should never just dole out criticism alone.
2. Exciting work
Staff want a job that is challenging, interesting and fun. They want to feel a sense of accomplishment and that the time they have spent at work has been worthwhile.
Our research indicates that employees are much more likely to feel excited about their work if they are learning something new, they are involved in a pioneering project or they are empowered to operate with autonomy. HR practitioners should encourage line managers to discuss with workers what they like and don’t like about their job and managers should aim to provide variety where possible.
3. Security of employment
Staff want job security. They want to feel confident about their employer’s future and that their work is stable and steady enough to enable them to meet their financial obligations. HR practitioners must ensure that managers understand this fundamental requirement.
But managers should also be persuaded to consider the morale, welfare and well-being of their teams. If they can empower individuals and give them a say in how they work, it will create trust and give people more of a sense that they are in control of their own destiny.
4. Pay
Clearly, pay is a factor. Employees want to be compensated fairly for the work they do and the contribution they make (through base pay, bonuses and benefits). But the important word here is ‘fair’. We all want to feel that we are being treated even-handedly and that our performance is evaluated based on merit.
One thing that HR practitioners can do in this context is to provide an annual compensation and benefits review in order to underline to staff how much the organisation is investing in each individual. Allowing employees time off can also help to compensate for lower pay rates.
5. Education and career development
Workers want to be given opportunities to develop their skills and advance their careers. HR practitioners can help by ensuring that the necessary resources are available to enable the requisite training. Encouraging managers to offer workers ‘stretch assignments’ in which they learn new skills is also helpful in increasing employee engagement and boosting feelings of job security.
HR should likewise facilitate formal and (at least) annual career discussions with staff members in order to establish their goals and aspirations. Managers must also be encouraged to give people the autonomy, authority and support that they need to use their skills effectively by doing their jobs in their own way.
6. Conditions
No one works in a vacuum so what happens around them matters. Employees want a well-equipped environment that is comfortable, healthy and safe. For most people, their social working conditions are even more important than the physical ones.
As a result, HR practitioners should encourage managers to provide forums for social interaction in order to facilitate and support team-working. Managers must also ensure that each individual’s personal goals are aligned with those of the organisation.
Listening and responding to employee complaints ought likewise to be encouraged as should helping each individual to achieve a healthy work-life balance.
7. Truth
Personnel want to be told the truth. They would like to work for honest and transparent managers who act with integrity and communicate openly and directly. Therefore, HR practitioners should encourage managers to provide honest feedback and set clear goals.
Regardless of how bad things are, employees ought always to be told the full story. They will know if things are bad anyway, but it is important for managers to understand that lying only undermines their personal credibility.
These seven secrets – Recognition; Exciting work; Security of employment; Pay; Education and career growth; Conditions and Truth – can significantly enhance the business’s bottom line and improve both employee engagement and customer satisfaction levels.
For those with tight budgets, the good news is that the majority of these secrets don’t cost much, if anything, to implement. For example, recognising employees’ achievements and telling them the truth cost nothing. Identifying exciting work just requires managers to understand what motivates each individual.
This means that it should simply be a case of encouraging managers to make the necessary effort in order to give employees what they really want.

Jack Wiley is executive director of the Kenexa High Performance Institute and has co-authored a book called ‘RESPECT: Delivering results by giving employees what they really want’, which is in the process of being reviewed by a member of HRZone’s community.

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Jack Wiley

Executive Director

Read more from Jack Wiley

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