Employee Engagement Programs. Do they work?

Today is International Dog Day. A day to celebrate our furry friends all over social media.  In my house, every day is international dog day – at least that is what our dog, Molly, would have you believe.  Today got me thinking.  In this order. 

Dog Day 

Bring your dog to work day 

Employee Engagement. 

Employers look far and wide for ways to entice employees to be happy, stay engaged, and remain in their jobs.  Employee engagement programs have been en vogue for quite a while now.   

Consistently there has been: bring your child to work day, ice cream social/truck day, bring your dog to work day, wear jeans to work day, pot luck lunch day, college pride day, baseball games, picnics, happy hours, off-site retreats which almost always include a trust fall or ropes course, and of course the day of caring. 

Some may debate me on the national or philanthropic events listed above but I would say 9 times out of 10, leadership is trying to engage employees by being a part of these events.  No company is required to have a day of caring or take your child to work day – they do it because they think employees will be happy.  They do it to make their employees feel empowered, prideful and engaged. 

So, on International Dog Day, I sit here and wonder – do these engagement programs really keep employees engaged?  Is it working?  Are we choosing the right incentives to motivate our employees to love their jobs or their employer? 

Most employee engagement programs are tied to HR as a strategic initiative.  HR normally has the resources and the experience to start the conversation and help build the strategy. But where most engagement programs fail is that accountability for the execution is never understood.  HR is always over emphasized in the process.  Leadership and the employees rarely pay attention and most programs are announced but never succeed.  If no one knows what is expected of them to engage and execute the program, what is the point? 

How many surveys have you taken at your employer? That is the #1 tactic used by HR departments to try and determine the current state of the culture and find areas where employee engagement programs can help.  I have seen so much emphasis on the survey.  Which I find to be completely subjective.  Subjective because depending on the day, an employee could give great feedback or they could be having the worst day of their career and railroad the entire organization.  Organizations spend too much time, money, and resources on these surveys.  

What happens after the survey?  Probably focus groups where topics are broken out by audience and brainstorming begins on how to “fix” the issues.  Bring your dog to work day and wear your jeans day is normally written somewhere on a brainstorming board during these sessions.  Quick fixes to create happiness, motivation, an appearance of flexibility, and a brief adrenaline injection so the employee doesn’t update their resume. 

A quick adrenaline injection.  A moment of happiness. 

But do they work in the long run?  Companies use quick fixes instead of tackling the major issues that most organizations face when keeping employees engaged and motivated. 

Long term solutions are sometimes the hardest to execute.  Employees deserve for their organization to at least try.   

Create open and transparent communication by being real.  Having monthly company meetings or CEO newsletters is a start but don’t over whitewash them – employees can tell when they are being read a line.  Tell them the truth.  Engage them in conversations about solutions to organizational challenges.  Your employees are your biggest supporters, talk to them.  Make them part of the solution by trusting them. 

Be flexible.  Welcome to 2019.  The world has changed because of technology.  We can work anywhere.  We can work 24 hours a day if we want to.  Why lock your employees down to their desk chairs, where you can see them work?  Trust your employees and give them the freedom to create a working environment that works for them.  Allow them to work a more flexible schedule but create logical boundaries so your clients, customers and strategies are met.    

Tie to performance.  Leadership should be held accountable for organizational turnover, engagement, productivity and revenue.  Tie leadership KPIs to engagement by creating 360-degree review programs, annually, for leadership to understand their potential. Allow employees to be “at the table” all year round for feedback on their team dynamic and company strategy.  An annual survey is not enough.  There should be consistent feedback and conversations all year long for employees to engage. 

Have Fun.  There is nothing wrong with bring your dog to work day or wear jeans to work day.  It’s fun and work should be fun!   But it should never be the entire employee engagement program.   

When you are interviewing for a new position the one major thing you should always ask is about employee culture.  Obviously, the work you will be doing will matter. You need to understand the projects, day to day structure, management style and career potential.  But the #1 thing you should try to understand is employee engagement programs, HR strategy, and turnover numbers. That will tell you everything you need to know about the organization you are interviewing for. 

Engagement matters. It makes up your happiness quotient in that job.  You want to work for a company that invests in you, that trusts you, and that knows how to grow your potential. 

So, on International Dog Day, I leave you with a picture of Molly.  Our office mascot at DNP Talent. She brings joy and loves to listen to interviews.  A motivated workforce is a strong workforce.