Do they really want a better employee engagement program?

Last week, Maritz Motivation Solutions, a company specializing in reward and recognition, sales incentive and channel loyalty programs, caused a little stir in the world of employee engagement with the release of the results of a new study.

Not so surprisingly, the results showed that despite increased spending among companies to improve reward and recognition programs, “less than half of employees feel meaningfully rewarded and recognized by those programs.”

Is there an employee engagement program anywhere that fundamentally changes how employees feel?

Frankly, I thought the best “lesson learned” from the entire study was on the power of compelling graphics: A cartoon-like Mick Jagger proclaims that companies “Can’t Get No Employee Satisfaction” in a colorful infographic summarizing research highlights. It caught my attention, and I’m aware of at least one other blog post on the topic. I’m certain there must be more.

Respondents were asked to self-identify in one of four categories. The results were as follows:

  • 17 percent self-identified as “altruists” – employees who make a difference in the workplace
  • 24 percent self-identified as “drivers” – those who push the company onward and upward
  • 26 percent self-identified as “pioneers” – employees who continually ask the question, “What’s next?”
  • 33 percent self-identified as “stabilizers” – those who don’t deviate from the plan and “stay the course”

Maritz Solution Vice President of Employee Engagement Michelle Pokorny notes, “To engage employees in a way that is meaningful and motivating requires an understanding of our innate human drives and what people value and view as important. In all cases, we have to consider that employees are people first.”

Hard to argue with that.

Do employees really want a better program? Raise the rate to 20 percent on the company 401(k) matching contribution program, and I’m sure employees will welcome it. But is there an employee engagement program anywhere that fundamentally changes how employees feel? Don’t get me wrong: I’m a fan of engagement programs. If nothing else, they demonstrate that management is making an attempt at improvement. But is that what really matters to employees?

I’m lucky in that I’ve always loved my work, and I’ve had the opportunity to practice in different companies and industries, and with a variety of managers. And – full disclosure – I’ve communicated the launch of more than my fair share of engagement programs. But, looking back, the jobs that I have found most rewarding have not necessarily correlated with the companies that had the best employee programs.

Best job ever: It was a friendly atmosphere where the employees had fun. (I have a particularly fond memory of “Hat Day” for Halloween in 2003.) I had autonomy over my work: What I did was negotiated, but how I accomplished it was up to me. I could trust my manager to tell me what I needed to know, to give me the resources to accomplish what was asked, and to treat me with respect and genuine appreciation for my contributions.

Worst job ever: The atmosphere was toxic. Expectations and responsibilities were unclear. Resources were scarce. Contributions went unrecognized and unrewarded.

In a tough economy, only limited funds are allocated to the “softer side” of business – for training, recognition and engagement programs. My advice: Put those funds to use developing managers that understand what truly motivates employees: not engagement programs, but clarity about expectations, resources to do what’s asked, appreciation for what is accomplished – all with a little fun tossed in for good measure.


© 2019 Betty Henry Communications