Employee engagement and productivity have motivated people to do their best. But The Great Recession has undermined the foundations of these human resource pillars. Also, the challenges of an increasing multi-generational, multi-cultural workforce connected in a virtual world have been further complicated by business realities of frozen compensation, unhinged career paths and stretched employees that hallmark today’s business realities. Businesses struggle to attract and retain the talent they need to emerge from the recession. The Forum for People Performance Management and Measurement says that emergence of “Employee Enrichment” emerged just in time. The Forum describes the concept’s key components, offers examples of businesses effectively using enrich
The great recession profoundly affected all aspects of the economy including the management of every organization’s greatest asset: people. Talent pipelines, compensation, employee motivation and other human resource strategies designed to make the most of human capital are being re-examined in the light of new economic realities. After several years of frozen compensation and reduced workforces, employers seek better ways to attract and retain the right talent at the very time that many burned-out employees are poised to jump ship for more promising opportunities. Without factoring in the recession, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that “the average American will have 10.8 jobs from age 18 to 42” and that, despite the reality that many workers anxiously clung to their jobs in the midst of the recession’s high unemployment rates, “the overall turnover rate across all industries was 16.3 percent in 2009,” reports Leah Shepherd (“Focusing Knowledge Retention on Millennials,” Workforce Management, August 2010: 6). No doubt, competition for talent and loyalty will be fierce and critical to business survival.
Dream Employers Foster Loyalty
The recession’s effects coupled with the emergence of a multi-cultural/multi-generational workforce—and the added influence of globalization—have placed a spotlight on innovative employers who seem to have magic formulas for attracting and keeping their employees happy and productive in spite of surrounding economic forces.
Take, for example, SAS Institute, Inc. This North Carolina software company has long offered personal employee perks at its headquarters campus. These include onsite child-care, a medical-care facility, a fitness center and natatorium, an extensive art collection and even a 1.8-mile “bluebird trail” with 25 birdhouses. These activities helped foster enduring loyalty and very low turnover, reports Ronald J. Alsop (“All Work and No Play…”, Workforce Management, October 2010). Then there’s the Google Inc. headquarters with its employee perks like massages, yoga, dance classes, employee piano and onsite ping pong, oil changes and dry cleaning. Such perks have made Google “the dream employer for many,” adds Alsop.
SAS and Google are two examples of companies who, consciously or not, have tapped into new ways of motivating employees that could be labeled “employee enrichment.” In our latest research paper (“Employee Enrichment: An Approach to Leadership and Management that Serves Employees”), The Forum defines employee enrichment as a strategic concept that genuinely emphasizes the quality of people’s lives (Frank Mulhern and Deepti Saxena, January 2011).
Employee enrichment addresses work and non-work life factors and attempts to enhance people’s lives on the expectation that the better a person’s well-being, the better that person performs. By allowing their employees to address both their personal and professional needs within the everyday work environment, companies like SAS and Google demonstrated their commitment to the quality of their employees’ lives. But the concept of employee enrichment doesn’t end simply with additional employee personal life enhancements, even though these attract, serve and support employees.
Employee Enrichment Requires Professional Development
Employee enrichment also involves professional development through formal policies aimed at advancing an employee’s career progress and other aspects that improve employee skills, performance and earnings potential.
Deloitte’s Future Leaders Apprentice professional rotation program is an excellent example. Employees are nominated or selected by committee and all new hires are eligible immediately. It offers several weeks of apprentice work at various organizations or departments within the company and, at the end of rotation, over three-fourths of participating employees acquire a higher level position. Each new hire who participates in the program receives a tuition payback as additional incentive to join the company.
The better the organization provides resources tailored to, and that have meaning for, the individual employee’s strengths and interests to foster personal growth, the more enriched he/she will feel. That’s the critical element in offering professional development.
Employee Enrichment Needs Social Connectivity
Employee enrichment also involves social connectivity. Wise leaders understand that employees don’t perform in a vacuum, but are part of a comprehensive network of people who have a profound influence on their work, their lives and their ability to perform. Leaders know that social connectivity is a higher order contribution to the work environment because it is likely to have a greater impact on the quality of the employee’s life than other enrichment contributions, and because it is significantly more difficult to implement than merely enacting a set of programs.
Social connectivity can be influenced by workplace factors that range from culture to physical infrastructure. For instance, Google has designed themed zones such as mountain scenery, rainforests and space stations in some of its offices to counteract the sterility of ordinary cubicles. Another example of how social connectivity works is exemplified by the Walt Disney Company, one of the most desirable companies to work for. Disney administers a series of mandatory programs for its employees based on social connectivity as a means to build great employee organizations. The events are special episodes of a program filmed for an onstage performance in the company’s entertainment centers. Employees are cast members. Experienced people are directors or producers. Disney provides the required technical staff. The goal is to create an enjoyable experience, bring out the best in the employee’s character, and to expose him/her to cast members in ways that lead to good interpersonal bonds over the entire course of the shooting. Ultimately, it fosters a heightened sense of confidence, trust, friendship, fun and camaraderie.
Employee Enrichment Leads to Thriving
Thriving is the final element of employee enrichment. It refers to a temporary state in which people experience positive feelings and a high level of energy in the context of their work performance. One dimension of this phenomenon is that it relates to learning and growth in which the activities are linked to a sense of progression in one’s own development. As employees experience a sense of thriving, they perceive that their work and their lives are enriching. To achieve a sense of thriving, employees need to act “agentically”: that is, they are active and purposeful in what they do. Three behaviors promote thriving:
- Task focus – which refers to the degree to which employees focus their behavior on meeting a defined work assignment, thereby generating energy from the sense of accomplishment;
- Exploration – which involves experimentation, risk taking, discovery and innovation that leads directly to learning;
- Heedful relatedness with others at work – which helps employees understand how their work, in concert with others, leads to the goal, also leading into vitality.
A good example of agentic behavior is positive social media usage that fosters trust among colleagues and contributes to a sense of thriving.
More than Satisfaction or Engagement
Employee enrichment can be contrasted with employee satisfaction and employee engagement. Employee satisfaction is a psychological construct that depicts a level of contentment derived from the relationship between expectations and experiences. It is often considered limiting, as it suggests that employees have the potential to simply feel “merely adequate” about their relationship with the organization. Employee engagement goes beyond satisfaction and connotes caring and passion with respect to how employees feel toward their employers. While stronger than satisfaction, both concepts are defined in the context of what an organization wants and expects, as opposed to what might best serve the employees.
With an enriched environment, leadership believes that as employee experiences with the organization contribute to meeting their own goals and developmental needs, the organization explicitly and implicitly benefits.
In reality, employee enrichment partially subsumes but goes well beyond compensation and benefits. While some elements of enrichment might manifest themselves as “perks,” the distinguishing factor is that providing the elements stems from, and adds up to, a serious management initiative to enhance people’s lives. In contrast, traditional benefits have all too often been designed as ways to tangibly motivate employees to stay with organizations despite other factors that might drive them away.
Positive Values: the Foundation
A “prerequisite” for building employee enrichment is to begin with a culture of positive values. While the specific values may vary from organization to organization, they might include a sense of mission, open and transparent communications, encouragement of free expression, respect for individualism, and more. Further, the more the leaders’ actions and the employees’ own beliefs are in alignment with these values, the stronger the resulting foundation. Employee enrichment is then expressed with the framework that emerges from that foundation of positive values and consists of implementing individualized personal and professional enhancements, social connectivity and attention to a state of thriving.
Putting People First
The concept of employee enrichment departs from other human resource and management strategies by genuinely being a people-first approach. The determining aspects of employee enrichment are not so much the exact practices that organizations undertake to serve employees as much as the attitude that things are done for the primary purpose of enhancing the lives of employees.
Companies such as Google, Microsoft, Wells Fargo, Deloitte, SAS, the Mayo Clinic and Cisco are just a few names frequently praised for their excellent treatment of employees. The common theme is the level of loyalty and passion exuded by their employees, indicating something special is going on between the companies and their employees. What sets these companies apart is not so much the exact practices they use, but that their management approach is strongly centered on improving both the work and non-work aspects of employees’ lives.
Leader Responsibility and Results
In the end, leadership’s responsibility in the scheme of things is to be thoughtful with the investments they make in employee benefits and resources, as well as the policies that frame the work environment. The more they are able to take actions that are designed to individually enrich and enhance employee experiences, with the idea that employees are constituents to be served as opposed to being simply a means to an end, the greater the payoff will be in increased productivity, engagement, loyalty and profitability.
Based in Naperville, Ill., The Forum for People Performance Management and Measurement is a research center within the Medill Integrated Marketing Communications graduate program at Northwestern University. The Forum develops and disseminates knowledge about communications, motivation and management so that businesses can better design, implement and manage people-based initiatives for inside and outside an organization. For more information, visit www.performanceforum.org.