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Dr. Matt Grawitch: January 2011 Archives

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A recent survey of Australian employees found that workers in small businesses care more about the direction of their company than workers in large businesses (65% to 49%). Furthermore, 26% of workers in small businesses “strongly agreed” that they were appreciated, but only 10% of workers in large businesses had the same sentiment.

On its face, these results seem to be a bit of a conundrum, because they suggest that workers in small firms are more engaged than workers in large firms. How can this possibly be? After all, larger firms have more financial resources to offer more formalized programs, cafeteria-style benefits, and better pay.

I think the conclusion that one can draw is that the perks offered by larger employees are not what drives engagement. Instead, things like organizational culture, positive relationships with supervisors and co-workers, feeling as though you are having a meaningful impact – those are the key factors that drive engagement.

So, why is it that the issue of engagement always seems to center around the provision of tangible perks and benefits? After all, most engagement surveys look at issues like compensation and benefits as relevant factors driving “presence” at work.

It probably has more to do with the quick-fix mentality that has taken over in many organizations. It is much more expedient to create a new program or benefit than it is to change the culture of an organization. To make the issue worse for large companies, the bigger the company, the harder it is to create an integrated engagement culture. So, the quicker “solution” (if you want to call it that) is to try to bribe employees into being engaged.

Yet, the true motivators of engagement are not the compensation and benefits. As I’ve previously argued, at best these are nothing but satisfiers (or hygiene factors to quote Herzberg). They will not provide the daily incentive to engage workers. If you cannot create an engagement culture – and it has to be one that focuses on culture, relationships, and leadership – you will have a difficult time getting employees to really care about the direction of your company.

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