Can employee involvement boost engagement in a motivation strategy?


Need to know:

  • Involving staff in motivation schemes can encourage take-up.
  • Social events, charitable initiatives and exercise classes are often popular.
  • Peer-recognition schemes can also make employees feel involved.

The UK has an employee motivation problem. Research by Argos for Business conducted for Employee Motivation Day, published in February 2016, found that just 30% of teams feel motivated more than three days a week, with fewer than a quarter of those from the millennial generation saying they are motivated every day. This would suggest many motivational schemes are failing to have the desired impact, for at least some of the time.

One reason for this could be a lack of employee involvement in shaping and implementing schemes and ideas that are supposed to motivate them. Richard Ellis, marketing director at Connected Benefits, says: “We would advise employers to involve staff from the start. In some situations it may be possible to brainstorm with employees about the types of motivation schemes that they would support, or to survey them and offer a choice of schemes for their feedback.”

Getting employee backing for any scheme can in itself be a powerful tool. Tanya Elliott, managing partner at content and communications firm The Moment, says: “We know from our own experience that we are more likely to believe a marketing message if the peer reviews are strong. The same is true in the internal world. Seeing a message that has the support of peers adds authenticity and promotes trust.”

Ask employees what they want

There are a number of ways in which employers can start to involve staff more. A good starting point is to ask staff what would motivate them, says Chloé Port, head of employee communication at Xerox HR Services. “Employees can give vital information on views and sentiments within [an] organisation, as well as from friends and partners on what other employers are doing to motivate staff. Even if [an employer] doesn’t actively invite employees to participate at the conception stage, [it can] reflect on people whose performance and behaviours have stood out in a positive way and build the strategy around them,” she adds.

This is the strategy Lawrence Jones, founder and chief executive officer at UKFast, took. He says: “I’ve always sought input from everybody; I work with my friends and I employ like-minded people. At the moment I’m looking at doing free breakfasts and lunches for the whole [organisation] but I’m going to do a poll giving [employees] a couple of different options on how that would be presented, and whether they would prefer anything else. That’s genuinely the best way, because your team know best.” The organisation has also put on yoga classes in response to feedback from staff who did not want to use the on-site gym, he adds.

HR consultancy Peninsula Business Services has set up a social committee to help generate ideas and plan a number of events to raise morale. Alan Price, HR director, says: “One of our most successful events is the monthly #fundayfridaypbs, where employees devise activities surrounding a different theme, for example, a day at the funfair, which included traditional carnival-type games, tombolas and fun festival food throughout the day.”

Charity involvement

Getting staff involved in charity or corporate sustainability initiatives can also be a good way of motivating people, and is something Domestic and General Group has done, alongside other staff-led initiatives such as yoga, five-a-side football and massage days. Caroline Huggett, HR director, says: “Each of our four UK offices now has a named local charity of the year, as voted for by our employees. By asking employees who they want to support, we’ve seen a greater level of commitment to the cause and a new energy for fundraising and volunteering opportunities.”

Peer recognition schemes can also help employees get involved by allowing them to recognise others, and is something London Overground Rail Operations Limited (LOROL) actively encourages. “Through our Thanks to You spot-recognition scheme and our annual Shining Star awards, staff ideas, suggestions and efforts are recognised and celebrated,” says Carol Poole, HR director at LOROL.

Unique motivation programmes

Alternatively, businesses could look to develop their own unique experience. Guinness World Records has worked with a number of employers to develop teambuilding experiences that could result in world records being set, including helping Kellogg’s employees to topple a record number of cereal boxes and Samsung Electronics to set a record time for typing the alphabet forwards and backwards on a touchscreen phone.

For employers, the hope is that getting employees to shape and buy into such initiatives means they will be more engaged with their day jobs and the business as a whole. “If staff are highly engaged and motivated, they will go the extra mile to serve customers. Those that get it wrong will find they have staff who do the minimum,” says Roger Parry, managing director at Agenda Consulting.

Alphabet sees the benefits of staff involvement in motivation strategy

Fleet vehicle business Alphabet encourages staff to help shape its social and motivation initiatives through what it calls Alphabet Proactive Experts, or APEs.

Clare Witty, employee engagement manager, explains: “They are essentially volunteers from across the whole [organisation] and they’re my ears on the ground. We have a blackboard that staff can write on, and each month we capture the comments. It could be anything to do with making it a better place to work.” It’s not always possible to act on every suggestion, she says, but the business always provides feedback so people don’t feel ignored.

One initiative that has been a huge success is the development of a work choir, after Witty was inspired by Gareth Malone’s TV programme The Choir.

Witty says: “It’s an emotional and bonding experience, and you have to put an enormous amount of trust in your colleagues to stand on stage in front of your peers and open your mouth. We came together at Christmas to do our first performance and the next day I heard one of the girls from the choir say it was the best day she’d ever had at work.”

The business also has a group where staff can develop their own charitable initiatives, and plans to enter a team into the Three Peaks Challenge to raise money for its official charity. “We can see the benefit of having happy employees. We have an incredibly low turnover rate and we’re just about to celebrate a record sales year in 2015. All these things are because our staff are motivated and inspired,” says Witty.

Viewpoint: Staff involvement with benefits will increase engagement

The subject of employee motivation programmes in the workplace, specifically whether it is important to garner staff opinion when putting programmes in place, remains important and topical. The questions it raises include: should employers involve staff in the design and roll-out of programmes? Would this have an effect on engagement with schemes and, ultimately, engagement with work and the organisation? The short answer is ‘yes’ to these three questions.

In this context, motivational strategies would include being seen as a ‘good’ socially and ethically responsible employer with excellent working practices and policies, and corporate and social responsibility (CSR) programmes, volunteering days, charity or fundraising events, local community work, as well as retail voucher schemes, and also benefits. Benefits can be used to motivate, especially in an era of low inflation and pay rises, not least because these are not only extrinsic rewards, but also have intrinsic reward components to them.

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However, research has shown that many staff rarely correctly guess the real worth of benefits to them or their cost to organisations, and that they may even be deemed irrelevant and unnecessary at stages of recipients’ lives. To address this lack of line of sight between benefit and cost, a flexible benefits scheme, provided directly or outsourced to third-party providers, can engage staff because it increases staff involvement in choice: to tailor personalised benefit packages, within fixed overall budgets, of costed items from a menu to suit needs and lifestyles better. Even more engagement comes as these benefits may be varied over time as the staff member’s perceived greatest needs change, for example, offering more holidays versus pension. So, the impact of motivation strategies varies over personal life cycles and personal circumstances.

Chris Rowley is professor of human resource management at Cass Business School