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Better Benefits Won’t Create Employee Engagement



Creating an engaged workforce is the topic of almost every HR conference, every HR post on the web and a myriad of “research” studies and white papers.  It is safe to say that there are few issues associated with employees these days that top the concept of driving greater engagement.  And a lot of that discussion centers around the benefits companies offer to attract and keep talented, engaged employees.

But I think the focus on benefits is wrong.  You can’t provide enough benefits.  There is marginal upside for each benefit you add to the mix with little or no increase in employee engagement.

How Will You Measure Your Life

I just finished Clayton Christensen’s new book “How Will You Measure Your Life” and I highly recommend it as a manager and as a human being (I hope there is no argument about whether I’m human or not.)

The book is really about how you personally can create a fulfilling life but he does take time to talk about your work and how that affects whether we’re happy, satisfied and motivated.

What jumped out at me when reading it were his discussions on the difference between being satisfied and being “motivated” in your job.  Note: I am taking some liberties by substituting “engagement” for motivation when I read the following points quotes from the book.

“Herzberg notes the common assumption that job satisfaction is one big continuous spectrum—starting with very happy on one end and reaching all the way down to absolutely miserable on the other—is not actually the way the mind works. Instead, satisfaction and dissatisfaction are separate, independent measures. This means, for example, that it’s possible to love your job and hate it at the same time.”

“We should always remember that beyond a certain point, hygiene factors such as money, status, compensation, and job security are much more a by-product of being happy with a job rather than the cause of it.”

In other words – hygiene factors remove dissatisfaction but don’t create engagement.

Again from the book:

“So, what are the things that will truly, deeply satisfy us, the factors that will cause us to love our jobs? These are what Herzberg’s research calls motivators. Motivation factors include challenging work, recognition, responsibility, and personal growth.”

“Motivation is much less about external prodding or stimulation, and much more about what’s inside of you, and inside of your work.”

“The point isn’t that money is the root cause of professional unhappiness. It’s not. The problems start occurring when it becomes the priority over all else, when hygiene factors are satisfied but the quest remains only to make more money.”

Hygiene Factors Don’t Drive Engagement

My take away from this is that if you focus on “benefits” you’re focusing on hygiene factors.  And those factors will remove dissatisfaction.

But they won’t create engagement.

Engagement is a Function of the Individual

A lot of discussion on engagement has focused on providing new and quirky benefits – foosball tables, unlimited vacation, and gourmet food in the cafeteria.  Those are all great things.  But in my mind, they are  the“benefits” of working at a particular company.

They apply to everyone in the organization.  They are stock solutions to employee dissatisfaction issues.  And you can’t create engagement with wholesale, stock interventions.  This is why managers are so critical to high levels of employee engagement.

For true engagement to occur in a company you must first remove the issues that cause dissatisfaction – the baseline benefits offered by the company that satisfy the hygiene needs of the employee.  Then you must focus on the individual and what they want out of their association with your enterprise.

Net-Net – Engagement is a function of customizing the relationship between the company and the employee. 

Don’t try to impact engagement with a one-size-fits-all benefits upgrade.

Focusing on benefits past a certain point won’t help you  – sure you’ll have satisfied employees– satisfied employees that are out looking for a job where they find meaning in their work and aligns with their personal values and goals.

2 Responses to “Better Benefits Won’t Create Employee Engagement”

  1. Lori Rains says:

    Great post, Paul. I know what’s next on my reading list!

  2. Symbolist says:

    […] Better Benefits Won’t Create Employee Engagement (symbolist.com) […]

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