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Debunking 5 Employee Engagement Myths from the “HR Bible of Truth”

As an HR professional, it is tempting to check the box on implementing an engagement program. But as with anything else that makes a real difference, you should start any initiative of this sort by asking yourself a tough question.Is the program you’re considering really capturing the wants and needs of your employees? Forget everything you think you know about employee engagement. Today, we’re myth-busting.

Myth 1: Programs are one-size-fits-all.

Got a checklist of must-haves for any successful engagement initiative? Forget it. Whenever an engagement program or modification is based on “general knowledge” of employee wants instead of consulting actual employees, you are operating on an incorrect assumption that all workforces are the same and same program will work for all of them. Cookie-cutter programs treat a workforce as a single entity that looks similar to other workforces based on size, location, demographics, etc. These programs aren’t effective because they aren’t designed for people; they’re driven by a desire to check the box of engagement without delving into the nuance of driving human motivation. If a program isn’t grounded in the actual wants and needs of the employees it is being created for, you’re headed for trouble.

Myth 2: The magic engagement equation.

It may hurt to have this bubble popped, but there isn’t a magic equation out there that will make engagement simple and easy. There is no plug-and-play solution that will make this effortless for you or for your leadership team. You’re going to have to ENGAGE in ENGAGEMENT. In the end, only investing in your own culture will open the doors to insightful conversations and a path to move forward. While it’s obvious that no two companies function the same way, or need the same program, it’s also true that distinct locations, demographics, and functions within the same organization may have different needs. In fact, we have a client where two offices in different parts of the country need wildly different offerings, even though these offices are under the same mission and culture of one company. The only magic engagement rule is that a workforce is comprised of individuals, so your offerings must be as unique as they are.

Myth 3: Rewards work.

You may know of a company where providing financial incentives to participate in engagement programs transformed their workforce for the better. If you do, then you have found the anomaly. For the majority of companies and engagement programs, incentives (monetary or otherwise) have nice yield short term but over the long term don’t yield results. What’s worse, incentives defeat the purpose of engagement initiatives. Tangible rewards shift the goal of a wellness program from sustainable success and satisfaction to cashing in on whatever the boss is offering. Rewards may up your short-term participation numbers, but studies have shown that leveraging extrinsic motivation has a shelf-life, whereas accessing intrinsic motivation has staying power. The latter goes beyond simply getting bodies in the room; it builds a workforce that knows they matter.

Myth 4: Leadership always knows best.

Leaders bring their own preferences and aversions when it comes to engagement. Those may include unrealistic, dinosaur-era values around productivity, hostility to humanity in the workplace, and their own reluctance to take on something as messy and non-linear as optimizing human beings. Although clearly organization leaders are people, too, they’re not the ears of the organization. Nor are they the keepers of insight about how to get the best out of people. The best leaders give their support to engagement programs but encourage those on the front lines to own them.

Myth 5: You can engage in bits and pieces.

Just as conventional wisdom debunks the notion of work being separate from life, it is laughable to think that we can call upon the best in people without approaching them as whole, complex, and always changing. Or that we can enroll them in an engagement program without fostering an engagement-oriented culture. It may feel exponentially more daunting to plunge into engagement all at once, but it can’t be broken down into bite-sized chunks. “Bits and pieces” engagement programs may let you complete your quarterly to-do checklists, but they won’t ignite the hearts of your people. Engagement programs don’t have to be about reinventing the wheel. They are about providing your people the tools they crave to get more out of their lives and feel more a part of the organization than they currently do.