Want to Better Engage Workers? It’s Finding What Works For Your Culture

Employee engagement is one of those topics that gets a lot of attention, but if you ask anyone what it takes to retain and engage workers, it’s likely you’ll get as many answers as there are stars in the sky.

In other words, good luck figuring it out.

Given that, I’m not surprised by this new study by Randstad, a global provider of staffing and HR services, that got employers and workers to answer questions around the issue of what are the most effective ways to keep employees engaged.

Bonuses and promotions are most effective

The headline finding, according to the press release from Randstad, was this: “U.S. workers are most likely to identify promotions or bonuses as one of the most effective ways to keep them engaged.” According to the latest Randstad Engagement Index released this week, “36 percent of workers say this is among the most effective motivations, however, only 27 percent say their employers actually practice these types of incentives and just 28 percent say their companies have a formal system to recognize and reward employees.”

Well yes, people do like money and promotions, but with only 36 percent of workers flagging those things as effective motivators, I don’t see that as an overwhelmingly accepted solution to the engagement problem so many organizations have.

There were other findings in the survey that I found more interesting however. Here are a few of them:

  • Recognition is important: 54 percent of employees say that feeling their efforts are recognized and valued is one of the most important attributes that impact their attitudes towards their jobs.
  • A stimulating work environment helps: Although 36 percent of employees say that promotions or bonuses for high performers are the most effective engagement tools, other effective tools they identified included a comfortable and stimulating work environment (30 percent), encouraging employees to share ideas and opinions (28 percent), and investing in employees’ careers through training and professional development (28 percent)
  • Employers aren’t focused on bonuses and promotions: Despite the importance they place on bonuses or promotions, only 27 percent of employees say their employers offer them to high performers.
  • But, most employees feel good about their company: Three quarters (76 percent) of employees believe that their company has a great future, and 66 percent believe that their company makes an effort to keep them engaged. However, nearly one-in-five employees (18 percent) say that their employers do not make any efforts at all to engage workers.

Employers “are doing some things right”

I could go on, but you probably get the picture, because the findings from this survey were sort of a mixed bag of good and not so good without any clear pattern to it. That probably reflects the mindset of today’s worker and state of the workplace as we slowly and laboriously (it seems) recover from the Great Recession.

Jim Link, the managing director of human resources for Randstad U.S., tried to put the survey findings in perspective:

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One of the most challenging obstacles for employers is finding what works for their culture and employees when it comes to keeping workers engaged and invested in their work and the company. Compensation usually ranks at the top of the list, however our research shows it is important to offer a full package of motivating tactics that not only provide benefits but also promote leadership and professional development. This study tells us that employers are doing some things right, but when it comes to finding ways to help boost morale and decrease turnover, relying on annual performance reviews as the only engagement tool is far from sufficient.”

Ahhh, the annual performance review. I had not gotten around to that yet, but not surprisingly, only 16 percent of employees rank performance reviews as an effective means of keeping them engaged, although reviews were the most commonly practiced employee engagement activity mentioned in the survey, as indicated by 46 percent of employees.

Getting employers and workers on the same page

The Randstad Engagement Index is comprised of findings from quarterly research targeting employees and annual surveys of employers. The last research was conducted June 28 – July 18, 2012 from a national sample of 3,251 aged 18 and older who are currently employed full time. Weighting was used to balance demographics and ensure samples reflect the U.S. population of working adults, and employees and employers were surveyed to compare notable differences in perceptions and attitudes

There’s a lot more in this survey if you have the time to dig through it (you can find it here), and I always find that to be a useful exercise if you really are interested in the state of employee engagement and how to improve it.

If there is one thing that is clear from this survey beyond the back and forth of attitudes, it’s this: employers need to get on the same page as their employees if they truly want to improve engagement and retention. They must know what employees are looking for to stay engaged and fulfilled on the job, and then, they need to give it to them if they truly want an engaged and fulfilled workforce.

If it sounds simple, it is. But, simple doesn’t make it easy, or critical, for employers to execute — as the survey clearly shows.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


2 Comments on “Want to Better Engage Workers? It’s Finding What Works For Your Culture

  1. The study asks employees what they want and so its no surprise they day more money and promotions. Its not a great way to get data because people are bad predictors of their own motivators. Other studies have shown that monetary incentives are a poor motivator.

    Meaningful work is what really matters but its not top of mind for most people.

  2. Interesting article! Other studies have shown employees are also looking for meaningful work and employer feedback. Whether you’re overhauling promotions or looking into new ways to provide recognition, cultural fit is important. That’s why the hiring process itself is so key. If you make sure you hire employees who will fit into the culture, those employees will be happier and more engaged. In the interview, whether in person or through online video, make sure the candidate will be a good fit for your current company culture for a more engaged workforce.

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