Is Bigger Better?
By Robyn Jay Bage
In the last few weeks, my business classes have discussed the concept of employee engagement. Our exploration included looking at organizations that manage to supersize benefits—free meals, ping pong in the cafeteria, company pool, anytime naptime, etc. You’ve heard the rumors.
In class, we moved past rumors and watched the videos. We also read several articles about these playground worksites. Many thought those work environments were awesome, and indicated they’d be happy to work at any of these companies. An equal number of students was aghast, and wondered how any work was ever done. In both groups, there seemed to be a widespread belief that employees would be very likely to take advantage of the employer’s generosity, leading to low productivity.
Although the reactions of my students were very interesting, they were not unexpected. Students either get excited about the idea of working at a company like Google, or are skeptical of the company’s productivity. This time, however, one student surprised me. She said, “I can see employees would be thrilled to work at a place like that. But all those perks don’t necessarily make them engaged.”
Bingo. But if a company car, all the chocolate you can eat, a waterslide and free medical care don’t foster engagement (and the research seems to indicate that they don’t), what does?
Studies indicate that managers with integrity (alignment between words and actions) and who are trusted by employees, have engaged employees. (You’ll find some sources at the end of this blog.) Meaningful goals, objective measures, adequate resources, the opportunity to innovate and autonomy also contribute to engagement. In other words—the same things that motivational theories have told us for decades.
My students understand that pay and benefits matter, but these future leaders also understand that money and off-the-chart perks aren’t magic elixirs for poor productivity. Sure, employees who are happy and have fun at work tend to be more productive. However, if there is incompetent management, or employees perceive the manager as inauthentic, there is no chance for true engagement no matter how big the playground.
Aarts, D. (2014). The Truth About Employee Engagement. Canadian Business, 87(2), 31-35. 613
Cardus, M. (2013). The Five Levers of Employee Engagement. Journal For Quality & Participation, 36(2), 28-31.
Dan-Shang, W., & Chia-Chun, H. (2013). The Effect of Authentic Leadership on Employee Trust and Employee Engagement. Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal, 41(4), 613-624. doi:10.2224/sbp.2013.41.4.