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Employee engagement trumps perks and benefits: How business leaders need to create an environment of freedom, safety and collaboration

Phil Dunk, CEO at River, explores the longstanding value of true engagement versus the quick wins of perks and benefits.

From discounts on gym membership to restaurant meal vouchers, employee perks and benefits are big business. For most of us, offering an instant reward feels like the easiest way to say thanks to our staff, and therefore seems like the quickest way to achieve the holy grail of employee engagement. After all, an engaged workforce is a profitable one, so if we engage our people more quickly, we’ll see the difference in our bottom line earlier, right? Why then, with so much being spent on instant rewards, are employee engagement and productivity levels at an all time low?

Do perks really produce engagement?

Benefits, perks and non cash incentives all play a part in creating a happy and healthy workplace. But it’s a bit like saying that giving a card on Valentine’s Day will create a long and happy marriage, when we all know it takes much more than a trip to Clintons. The value of perks and benefits is fleeting – appreciated for a short time but quickly forgotten. Clearly, these extrinsic motivators aren’t stepping up to play the leading part in engagement that many of us expect. There is certainly a role for perks, but that role is in support of the true star of the show – genuine employee engagement.

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Creating the right environment

The reason why people feel engaged is deep-rooted in their emotions and the ability to see the value they create. Their motivation comes from within and is nurtured by a company who creates the right environment for them to flourish.

So what is the right environment for an engaged workplace? It’s one where people feel safe and have freedom to collaborate. It’s where they can take responsibility and offer creative solutions. It’s where people know what’s expected of them and, in turn, how this contributes to their company's purpose, strategy or objective.

An employee who feels engaged at work has experienced this environment for a prolonged period and becomes naturally more focused and more committed. They are less likely to leave, more productive, give better service, make fewer mistakes and are less absent – all of which affects overall business profitability. When this is widespread across an organisation, its effect is truly powerful.

Measuring the impact of perks

Can a perk or benefit ever really compete with longstanding engagement? There’s no lasting value in spending millions on quick wins with little impact, or unwieldy annual engagement surveys that simply chase a score for the annual report. Instead, leaders should look to create the right environment for genuine engagement to thrive.

If just a small proportion of the budget currently spent on perks was invested in engagement surveys that are quick, simple and regular, the return on investment would be significantly higher. Business leaders need to be focussed on creating workplaces where feedback is meaningful, people own their own engagement and problems are dealt with every day.

The ripple effect of this across an organisation is unquestionable. So, consider sharing relevant KPIs with teams, and encourage them to create focus areas for improvement. Then marry that with recognition for progress towards these goals. That’s when true employee engagement comes in, because recognition is abundant, free flowing and shared.

For us, we believe the right technology should enable and amplify this environment across your organisation. The best software will allow people to own their own engagement, collaborate with others and provide clear insight that supports individuals and teams.

Only by creating an environment of freedom, safety and collaboration that allows your people to engage, connect and improve, can you inspire long lasting engagement that establishes a genuine emotional connection to your business. And that’s something you can’t put a price on.

HOW CAN WE HELP? 

We’ve developed a business framework for continuous improvement, brought to life by a flexible software platform, and supported by a team of autonomous, passionate specialists. We think this could be a catalyst for some exciting and challenging thinking in your organisation.

And what’s more, it holds the promise of unlocking new ideas, innovation and actions. If that interests you, talk to us about embedding a continuous improvement platform in your business.