26 Jun 2018 18:42 IST

How managers can engage employees

Contrary to what most managers think, money is not the only factor that motivates employees

If you ask managers what their most daunting task is, when it comes to managing people, many will say ‘engaging employees’. If you ask them what they do about overcoming the challenge, they will either point to Human Resources, as though it is an HR problem, or plead helplessness. This is an irony, as motivation guru Bob Nelson pointed out, because most of what it takes to engage and motivate people is well within the scope of business leaders who manage large teams.

If leaders walk around where their people sit, and see the ‘invisible visor’ around their employees’ head , they will notice that it reads, ‘Please make me feel important’.

It is interesting that in a number of surveys conducted with employees and their managers, about what motivates employees the most, managers rank money as number one priority, while employees rank money as number five or six in the top 10 choices. This shows that there is a huge disconnect between what employees want and managers think they want. And this gap comes in the way of leaders, who don’t leverage the opportunities to appreciate and recognise employees.

Harvard Business School’s senior professor, Dr Rosabeth Moss Kanter, puts it succinctly when she said, “Compensation is a right; recognition is a gift”.

Personal recognition is key

Managers often make two kinds of assumptions. First, that if they are compensating their people well, recognition is redundant. Second, if they are unable to compensate well enough, how can recognition motivate and engage employees? Both these assumptions have been debunked by numerous studies.

Frances Hesselbein, President of The Drucker Foundation said that people want to feel that their work makes a difference. Money does not achieve this; personal recognition does. In a study of potential workplace motivators by Dr Gerald Graham, Professor of Management at Wichita State University, three of the top five incentives ranked by employees had no cost, even though they were seldom done by managers. Two of them were: (a) a personal thank-you from a manager for a job well done; (b) public praise.

When these are done in a timely, sincere and specific manner, employees feel valued and appreciated.

Meaningful appreciation

The recognition value is symbolic, emotional and intangible, and has been found to be the most motivating for employees. It is also, most often, undervalued by the managers. They often cite award functions and merchandise given during such functions as ‘recognition’. They perhaps are.

However, there is more to it than mere material gifts. During such rewards and recognition events, someone from HR reads the citation and a senior manager gives the award. However, this isn’t as powerful, and doesn’t have the same impact as an immediate manager walking up to the employee and sharing his or her appreciation does. This is often why the employee receiving the award, finds the experience more of a ritual than a recognition.

Meaningful appreciation can truly be created out of thin air. Are managers listening?