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How to create an engagement program employees will love

Getting caught up in the mire of research and opinions about whether or not rewards work can drive onehappy employees lifting boss cartoon resized 600 to drink—or something stronger! It’s especially true if you have a large workforce and are getting pressure from the top to produce results. What kind of behavior changes are you looking to achieve in your workplace? What measurements are you using that confirm certain behaviors are improving?

We know what doesn’t work. Compliance is not engagement. Fear isn’t respect. Intimidation creates costly turnover. Cooperation isn’t always collaboration. Throwing only cash or rewards at your workforce will produce only temporary changes in attitude and behavior.

The Pavlov approach to changing employee behavior gets a one-time response at best. Once the reward runs out, your employees will often revert to their old ways. Losing weight, showing up on time, quitting smoking, practicing safety, contributing ideas, saving money, or improving sales are all goals that need more than a pat on the back or a new TV. You can spend a lot of money—only to get a temporary result.

So do rewards work?

The answer will depend on how your programs are designed and implemented. What you want is the best use of your organization’s resources for long-term positive and productive performance. Here’s a hint—sincere and deserved recognition is the foundation.   

We’ve all heard the words “extrinsic motivators”—performing an action to receive a tangible reward or to avoid pain. Unfortunately, it’s the only level of recognition most managers practice. The intrinsic side of the equation is often ignored. Does my incentive program encourage behavior change because it is intrinsic and personally rewarding to my employee? The balance of extrinsic and intrinsic recognition and rewards translates into a powerful motivator.

“If a reward boosts your feeling of competence after doing good work, your enjoyment of the task may increase. Rewards, rightly administered, can motivate high performance and creativity. And extrinsic rewards (such as scholarships, admissions, and jobs that often follow good grades) are here to stay,” explains author and professor of psychology at Hope College in Michigan, David G Meyers.

Possible rewards include higher commissions for top salespeople, extra pay for factory workers based on increased production, stock options for top executives, special rewards for Employees of the Month, vacations, banquets, plaques—the list is endless.
Does your program promote teamwork, participative management, and continuous improvement? Is your perception of recognition a way to bribe your workforce into being happy? If I keep my employees happy, will this assure better performance?

The difference between happy and engaged

Many employers remain unclear as to what the differences are between a happy worker and an engaged worker. Giving someone a free lunch can produce “happy” but being engaged and intrinsically motivated comes before “happy.” Putting your approach in the right order will develop a productive, creative, loyal, and passionate workforce. Your engaged employees will take better care of your customers, making them more loyal and much more likely to keep buying from you.

Surveys of employees have shown that even when they claim to be happy on the job, they will not hesitate to jump ship when another “opportunity” comes along. By coming to a better understanding of what it means to be happy, satisfied, and engaged, you can take intelligent steps to improve your overall workforce retention and performance.

Bring in the love—building an engaged workforce

• Develop and maintain a culture that demonstrates that you have the quality, the
   capability, and the power to elicit belief from your employees in your leadership.
   Gaps between what you say and what you do will undermine your credibility.
• Remain uninfluenced by emotions and personal prejudices when it comes
   to workforce issues.
• Show your ability to be an objective critic.
• Show a high degree of skill and knowledge in your subject to raise the impact
   of your advice or opinion.
• Demonstrate to others what it means to be a team player—with superiors
   and colleagues alike.
• Integrate your mission statement, company brand, the work itself, and
   interpersonal relationships with supervisors.
• Be sure that your incentive programs don’t contain policies, rules, and
   concepts that frustrate employees and create conflict within work groups.
• Make sure your teams understand how their efforts contribute to
   the company’s success. 

Having these qualities will automatically show employees that the organization has their best interests in mind. This will foster a creative and collaborative environment while instilling a sense of pride and ownership in your company’s mission.

Employee engagement is your competitive advantage

You work hard to attract and retain talented and dedicated staff. When you make sure your employees feel they are adding value and you go the extra mile to thank employees for good work and smart suggestions, you will see a commitment from your employee population toward the success of the company.  

Did you know that your employees are constantly evaluating their effort against their rewards? They are also comparing these with those of their coworkers. What are the best ways to influence employee productivity and the notion that your incentive programs are fair? When your supervisors and managers are accountable and the rewards are commensurate with achievement, your people will enthusiastically participate. Hold regular meetings focused on employee participation and accomplishments. Encourage employee ideas.

Trying to lead employee performance from your mahogany chair can kill communication and motivation. If your schedule prohibits more personal involvement in your engagement efforts, consider a Peer-to-Peer program.

According to Great Place to Work, employees who trust and are trusted will raise their levels of engagement and happiness.


So reduce the roadblocks that interfere with an employee’s work. Look at your supply chain. Is one employee just standing around waiting for another to finish?
Does your organization provide employees with the tools and encouragement they need to be effective in their jobs? Are employees given room to find efficiencies in their everyday work? This will improve your workplace attitude and reduce costs.
Have an engagement and motivation initiative that is on-going and long standing. Make the changes in your incentive programs evolutionary and you promote growth.

And remember that engaging and motivating employees requires that management is also engaged and committed in their involvement—to both your employees and your company mission.

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Topics: retaining your valued employees Communication Employee Engagement Safety Employee Retention Employee Recognition Sales Performance Peer to peer recognition tangible reward Attendance Employee Incentive Programs