Work must have value

I have studied employee engagement ever since I got into Internal Communications. That’s why we do it right? Never before have I been struck by the simplicity and poignancy of a single statement in all my reading on the subject:

“The engaged stay for what they can give. The disengaged stay for what they can get.”

I picked it up on Twitter via @adamparnes who had just blogged about his experience at a National Geographic forum he had attended which had been facilitated by Leadership Development consultants Blessing White. The trail led me to Blessing White’s 2011 Employee Engagement Report. Do yourself a favour – read it!

The concept of recognition is not new. Every study on employee engagement ever made will mention recognition as a key driver of positive behaviour. However, I haven’t seen many that focus on the value of work. Gallup touch on it in their 12 Elements of Great Management, where I recall the phrase “money without meaning is not enough compensation” however the context was more around working for a company that has a noble cause and a vision that inspires.

What I love about “The engaged stay for what they can give” is the focus on individual contribution. If you feel that your own endeavours add real value to the company and are contributing to its success your motivation levels will be sky high and you are likely to hang up pretty quickly next time that pesky recruiter calls.

On the contrary, no matter how much love and loyalty you feel towards your company, if the work you are being asked or allowed to do does not feel valuable, no amount of money, free lunches, great benefits, table football or sleeping pods will keep you there for too long. And if it does, that’s where the rot sets in.

Work must have meaning. It must have value. If the meaning and value disappears you begin to tread water. OK, you are still motivated by the rewards for doing that job and you still do your job. You even look busy a lot of the time. But the days drag on and your main focus becomes the clock on the wall. You tune out. Discretionary effort goes out of the window, and in no time your increasing disillusionment turns to bitterness and you begin to sap the energy of those around you.

It’s simple. The secret of driving employee engagement lies in matching the operational and strategic needs of the business with the individual skills, interests and aspirations of each employee so that everyone feels that the work they do has value.

This was beautifully illustrated in last week’s episode of Downton Abbey in the following exchange between Mrs Isobel Crawley and Lady Grantham:

“If I am not appreciated here I will seek some other place where I will make a difference. I mean it. I cannot operate where I am not valued. You must see that.”

Blimey – I never thought I’d end up quoting a popular period drama to make an intellectual point about employee engagement…

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