Motivation and engagement

When staff are under greater pressure with increased workloads while seeing the cost of living rise but not their salary, building and maintaining staff morale is more challenging than ever. Employee engagement and motivation must remain high on the business agenda to maintain momentum. This is a new scenario for most managers that needs closer examination if we are to understand how it has developed, what new issues have emerged and how they can be addressed.

Employee engagement has been the popular management concept that captures how many organisations have approached the issue of morale and motivation during the recession. From the incentive, motivation and sales industry media to the HR, PR and internal communications sectors, everyone has their angle on it and it is widely used when discussing issues on staff motivation, loyalty, retention, rewards and recognition.

Employee engagement’ was introduced to summarise encouraging employees to buy-in to the goals, ambitions and corporate ethos of an organisation in a way that will inspire them to want to drive the business forward proactively and generate success. It aims to emphasise to the individual that they are an integral part of the organisation and that their efforts will directly contribute towards achieving success. The engaged employee will feel personally rewarded by the opportunities and successes that are created by their hard work as well as the recognition that they will receive from their employer for driving the business forward. An engaged employee is motivated and loyal, and a motivated and loyal employee can be a highly productive one.

Recessionary measure
The concept really came to the fore as the recession hit. While workforces witnessed redundancies and salary-freezes, the challenge to keep staff motivated and engaged became far greater. This was often complicated further as the staff that were retained would often be required to take on extra responsibilities and work longer hours in order to cover the deficit created by downsizing. With all of these additional strains on the working culture, organisations needed to find new ways of retaining their best performers to help see them through the difficult times and ‘employee engagement’ was coined as the all-encompassing answer to this conundrum.

Firstly, to implement an employee engagement programme, the organisation’s overall strategic objectives must be communicated to the workforce at every level. On an individual basis, each employee must understand how they contribute to the bigger picture. Most staff will not take up the challenge of achieving these aims and objectives without being offered a positive reason that suits them personally. They need to be offered aspirational rewards as incentives that appeal to them with something to suit everyone in the workforce right across the age scale. A ‘one-size fits all’ approach to employee engagement, therefore, simply isn’t an option. The objectives, the criteria for earning the rewards, must be SMART (Specific Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound). The appeal of the rewards must be communicated effectively and regularly throughout the duration of the scheme to keep them top of mind. This is easily neglected, and important to the momentum of the scheme.

From the launch onwards, every online and offline medium should be used to convey the message, and this should continue regularly and frequently. Where possible, communications must be personalised not standardised, and must be fun, creative and engaging.

Boosting spending power
Within the choice of incentive rewards typically offered to staff, the emphasis has been on either specific prizes or vouchers and giftcards that allowed each staff member to treat themselves and buy something they want such as clothes or a weekend break, or a family trip to the cinema. These have continued to be effective incentives and rewards during this recession. However, pay restraint and rising prices have prompted employers to help their staff and boost morale and engagement by at least making their earnings go further. They have done this by offering flexible and voluntary benefits with cashback and discount schemes. A good example of cashback is the NHS Black Card which, for just £2.99, allows staff to save money on every day spending. By using the card after loading funds on to it, staff can earn up to five per cent rebate on purchases at various participating retailers that include many food superstores and high street names. The success of these cashback and discount schemes has been an important feature of engagement programmes during the recession and is now so well–entrenched that, where they are in place, they are a powerful factor in staff retention.

Employee Re-Engagement
Many organisations will have adopted an employee engagement programme, increased productivity and achieved their objectives. But this is where many managers have in recent years found themselves facing an unfamiliar issue. Many experienced managers have run motivation and engagement programmes for up to about two years in more buoyant periods where there were also pay rises and career opportunities for many individuals to add to the momentum and boost morale. As this down turn has, at best, flat lined for a much longer time, the new issue is the need to sustain engagement longer.

Some employees may have been engaged but then started to face new difficulties and frustrations that have since caused their drive and commitment to dwindle. Or perhaps others were never fully engaged in the first place. The long–term nature of the economic issues has created the need for  ‘employee re-engagement’ programmes.

Continual re-engagement is required in order to keep employees tuned into the changing company objectives. I believe that a re-engagement programme, tailored to individual needs, attitudes and status, offering new attractive incentives and more creative communications is vital to rekindle the fire and involvement among staff.

CIPD figures suggest that over a third of workers intend on seeking new employment as soon as the recession has subsided. If they are not continually re-engaged and their efforts rewarded with enviable incentives, staff will quickly lose their enthusiasm. Re-engagement is important for both the individual and the employer.

About the author
John Sylvester is executive director of P&MM Motivation and director of the Institute of Promotional Marketing responsible for motivation.