The Engagement Paradox At Work

The Engagement Paradox At Work

“When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.” - Simon Sinek


Millennials are being viewed through the wrong optics since they are perceived as the initiators of disruptions. They are the ones who popularized selfies, food porn, online communities, byte sized learning, and introduced the multitasking wonders of smartphones to the world. However, it is evident that they bring with them a cache of unique experiences and skills that are invaluable to the workplace. As today’s workplace creates room for millennials who are seen to make for 50% of the global workforce by 2020, and with the arrival of Gen Z, the standard engagement practices of the past need to be done away with, so as to accommodate ourselves for the arrival of Gen Z and the inundation of millennials. Failure to pay heed to this would only result in the organisation losing out on the top performing talent, and in real quick time, and even worse, to their competitors who offered them an opportunity as per the needs of their engagement. Revamping and innovating recognition practices can capitalize employee talents so that they flourish in the company. The changing rules of engagement for the diverse generation, spotting critical signs of disengagement, employer-employee expectation mismatch, innovative ways of enhancing engagement along with illustrations on best industry practices, and the contemporary ways of measuring the employee engagement pulse have been mentioned in the paragraphs to follow.


The changing laws of engagement


In late 2014, the Northeastern University conducted a survey on teens in the age bracket of 16-19 years, and came about with certain traits on Gen Z that could give a sense of the behaviour pattern of this wannabe generation.


1. 63 percent of the respondents stating that colleges should be teaching them on entrepreneurship

2. 42 percent expect to be self-employed later in life

3. Interpersonal or face-to-face interaction is highly important as compared to communicating via technology


Spotting critical signs of disengagement


The 7 tell-tale signs that are needed to be monitored by HR business partners and engagement experts with empirical evidence in order to help organisations plan their engagement strategies.


1. Excessive absenteeism and tardiness: That disengaged employees do not rush to work in the mornings is a common red flag. But, if some employees are turning in slightly late it does not imply that they are disengaged, but it could be a strong indicator that they are lacking time management skills, are struggling with work-life balance, or maintaining a different lifestyle. However, it is noteworthy if employees are very late, leave the office randomly, or take extended lunch breaks. Absenteeism is a lot more serious than tardiness. Employees who do not come to work at all, or who take lots of random sick days are often simply fed up with their work. And, if they seem to be consistently ignoring pressing deadlines and targets by requesting days off, they are clearly disengaged.


2. Poor quality of work: Disengaged employees certainly do not aim for maximum quality. Actively disengaged employees will not meet expectations. Or, they may be doing just enough to keep themselves from getting fired. So, if there is a degeneration or stagnation in the overall quality, it may signal low engagement. Disengaged employees are unlikely to take on anything outside of what they see as their core remit. They will make excuses or find reasons as to why they cannot take on extra work, or try newer ways of doing things. They may refuse to entertain even the simplest of requests.


In Quotes “Disengaged employees certainly do not aim for maximum quality. Actively disengaged employees will not meet expectations. Or, they may be doing just enough to keep themselves from getting fired. So, if there is a degeneration or stagnation in the overall quality, it may signal low engagement. Disengaged employees are unlikely to take on anything outside of what they see as their core remit.


3. Withdrawal from meetings and gatherings: Disengaged employees tend to withdraw and even isolate themselves from their co-workers. They choose to opt out when it comes to meetings and gatherings. Even if they are present during a meeting or a team discussion, their minds wander to other places. Paying little interest to the matters of the organisation, disengaged employees make fewer efforts to engage and participate in any of the company events.


4. Ignoring referral requests:  Employees who are disengaged are unlikely to refer candidates for open positions. Even when you are actively seeking out referrals, and do not receive any from your employees, it is an indicator that they may be disengaged. Actively disengaged employees might even use social media to discourage others from applying. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is where ratings can be given on a zero to ten scale as to how likely it is for a person to recommend this company as a place to work. Employees who score 9 or 10 are called ‘Promoters’, those who score 7 or 8 are ‘Passives’, and an employee who gives a score of 6 or below can be viewed as a ‘Detractor’. In general, we like to improve upon and participate in things that we care about and appear meaningful to us. So, either the employees are not connecting with the mission and values of the company, or they are unhappy in the office environment.


5. Managers do not praise their team members: An HR business partner needs to ask the managers and supervisors, “what did you do in the past month to reward or praise your team members?” If in return, there is a hesitant answer or an awkward silence, it might just be the beginning of a grave engagement problem. Employees who do not see their work being recognized are unlikely to be motivated or engaged.


6. Employees at odds and raise complaints: Disengaged employees are not interested in solving problems and making progress. They often express their lack of engagement through open frustration and aggression. These employees will always be at odds with someone, and will resist new initiatives or instructions from their manager.


7. Lack of ownership: ‘Nothing to do with me’, ‘not my responsibility,’ ‘thought someone else would do it’ are common refrains of those who are disengaged with the company and their role. Finding things that they do care about in their role, even if it is only one element, is the key to changing the mindset of these employees. Reallocation of duties among a team can often revive disengaged employees, with certain team members thriving to do some tasks that the others are not truly deriving enjoyment from.


The Expectation Mismatch


A search into the motivators of the workforce will invariably lead us to the famous Herzberg’s two-factor motivational theory. Herzberg's findings revealed that certain characteristics of a job are consistently related to job satisfaction, while certain factors are associated with job dissatisfaction. He stated that factors such as achievement, recognition, responsibility and career advancement are key motivating factors that will help employees exceed at their work. Whereas factors such as supervision, company policies, work conditions, salary were the hygiene factors, which when absent were sure to demotivate employees. With generations changing at the workplace, from baby boomers to Gen X, from Gen X to Millennials, and now to Gen Z, we will need to revisit motivational theories and redefine their placement. With the enhanced presence of the millennial workforce and the arrival of the Gen Z, certain factors that were seen as motivators over the last decade are no longer seen as motivating, but have become the basic hygiene factors for the multigenerational workforce.


Hygiene Factor 1: Connectivity


Today, it is hard to find millennials/generation Z without a smartphone, and by 2020, it is evident that every employee would be hooked to a smart device. What would it look like if the generation is to be married to their work? What is it that would make them wake up every morning excited to put their nose to the grindstone another day? Millennials want to put everything they have into their work. Their hearts sing because they are living their purpose. Their minds are stimulated by the challenge. Like Millennials, Gen Z is a cohort of digital natives; they have had the technology and the many forms of communication since birth. They are used to instant access to information, and, like their older Gen Y counterparts, they are continually processing information. Like Millennials, they prefer to solve their own problems, and will turn to YouTube or other video platforms for tutorials to troubleshoot prior to seeking assistance. They also place great value on the reviews of their peers. Fostering connectivity in the workplace is a profound key to such a kind of holistic happiness. For managers with millennials on their teams, this is great news for if they can inspire creativity and innovation, and if they have hired well, they are sure to have a talented team of leaders with some untapped potential.


In Quotes “Like Millennials, Gen Z is a cohort of digital natives; they have had the technology and the many forms of communication since birth. They are used to instant access to information, and, like their older Gen Y counterparts, they are continually processing information. Like Millennials, they prefer to solve their own problems, and will turn to YouTube or other video platforms for tutorials to troubleshoot prior to seeking assistance.


Industry Practice: DreamWorks


Although employees at DreamWorks Animation are provided with perks such as free refreshments, paid opportunity to decorate workspaces, and company parties after the completion of big projects, a practice truly appreciated by them is if they are encouraged to share their personal work and projects amongst their co-workers at such parties and events. This makes way for appreciation of non-work related projects, kindles their creativity, and makes employees feel that they are more than just the work that they perform. With other companies like Google also providing employees with the time to work and pitch their own projects, and, this is a great way to really tell your employees that not only are they trusted, but that their input and creativity is really valued.


Hygiene Factor 2: Career Progression


Millennials grew up in a different world. When they work at a company, money does not merely motivate them. Instead, they want more opportunities, more progression, and more chances at development. Creating individual development plans could be the first step in developing employees to create a development plan. It is important to sit down with the employee and discuss individual interests and career goals. Such a conversation will help identify the developmental activities that individuals should be undertaking. After all, not everyone shares the same goals or has the same perspective about what they want to achieve in their career.


Industry Practice: Hyatt group of hotels


Hyatt’s high employee retention and long tenures speak volumes in an industry known for high employee turnover. The focus on employee development and promoting from within plays a large part in this. Another interesting practice, connected to development, is how they empower their employees (whom they call associates), to listen carefully to each other and guests, to be able to solve problems and create new solutions, rather than following scripts of what to do.


Hygiene Factor 3: Personalization


One thing Millennials are used to is individuality. They have grown up in a culture, which prizes nonconformity, and they have carried this belief over to their working lives. As employees that value themselves as individual talents, they expect an equally personalized form of feedback that addresses their strengths and weaknesses. They also expect this from the people they know; with 80% Millennials saying they were seeking regular feedback from their managers. Such a personal and individual type of recognition is designed to simultaneously deliver feedback and coaching. 95% of millennial employees said they would work even harder if they had learnt how their task contributed to the company’s larger strategy.


Industry Practice: Legal Monkeys


This legal record management company established a simpler, smaller way to show employees that their hard work is valued. The Appreciation Board is a glass picture frame, on which employees can write a note using a marker, and present it to their colleague to whom they want to show appreciation to. Whoever receives the board is free to keep it on display on their desk, until they are ready to pass it on to someone else, with each achievement also being posted on the company’s Facebook page to increase visibility outside of the team.


Hygiene Factor 4: Making the Voice Work


These days, Millennials do not just have to agree to their job role, they also have to agree to the company. Millennials are a generation who are deeply socially aware, and will often prioritize a company whose social innovations they agree with, over one with which they do not. Combined with the fact that they are some of the most educated employees in the workforce, companies should strive to let Millennials in on company decisions as a means of recognition. This does not have to be anything very significant; simple things like the company’s charitable decisions, allowing them to choose their own rewards allows Millennial employees to productively exercise their opinion. Removing barriers is a key to listening to employees. Many organisations are rigid in their organisational structure and processes, which can make it challenging to implement some cross-functional development and facilitate dynamic growth and high-performance training. It is up to the leadership to bridge the silos, knock down walls, and design a system, that encourages a fluid approach to learning and working.


Industry Practice: Virgin


This multi-industry organisation has a habit of listening to its employees, to show that they are valued, to listen to their opinions, and caring for their ideas, having healthy debates and continuously innovating. It is a win-win; the organisation keeps learning, and employees feel important and engage with the organisation.


Hygiene Factor 5: Real-Time Recognition


Millennials experience a culture of instant gratification which is vastly dissimilar from what the other generations have experienced. Fuelled by familiarity with digital media, Millennials are most accustomed to instantaneous reactions, and they anticipate the same at their workplace. Standardized recognition methods such as annual engagement surveys are therefore failing to resonate with Millennials; since they are clunky, lengthy, and do not resolve issues in limited time. Instead, try investing in pulse surveys that are short, powerful and are issued frequently enough so that you can resolve issues closer to their emergence. This is an easy way to recognize millennial employees, as it specifically addresses their individual needs and gives them a clear channel for communication in the company. Digital media is also extremely useful in providing a platform for real-time recognition. As Millennials are more accustomed to a work life, which bleeds into their home, companies are no longer restricted to communication within a strict 9-5 time frame to provide their feedback.


Industry Practice: HCL Technologies


HCL Technologies has started a Happiness Index, an analytics-based platform where people respond to a set of statements, which helps determine the mood of the organisation. The system is designed to automatically push out a short survey to anyone who has undergone a change of some sort. This could be a new manager, appraisal, end of a project etc.


Activities for enhancing Employee Engagement


Virtual surveys: There are multiple applications and systems that can be used to hold online surveys for the team members. By conducting a poll, you can learn and analyse their character, attitudes, patterns of behaviour, as well as personal preferences.


Virtual coffee break: While team members cannot always hang out together after work, you can still invite them for a virtual coffee break. These days, most public areas offer good Wi-Fi connection, including a coffee shop.


Online gaming: Believe it or not, playing games together can boost teamwork in virtual teams. To encourage healthy competition, managers can invite their teams to play the same online games. Not only is this fun, it also helps smoothen the flow of communication and improve overall bonding to build camaraderie. Various games available on the Internet can be used, or even custom games such as trivia questions related to the business can be developed.


Encourage sharing: People cannot always be 100 percent at work. When we find a co-worker who does not appear lively while responding to a chat, as usual, there might be something going on with them. In such situations, we need to take some time to put the business aside and learn what is happening with them.


Use Social Media: While it is true that we should draw clear lines of separation between the working and private life, it never hurts to add co-workers on the friends list on social media. Through social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Path, we can gather more information about the people we are working with.


Making recognition personal: The most successful recognition is highly personal. The value of highly personalized rewards cannot be understated, even in the case of those tenure-based anniversary gifts. It is also a great opportunity to reinforce the value of sticking around for a long time to the employees that the reward was chosen with them in mind, or which they can look forward to, which works as a great motivator to keep going during moments of low-morale. On the other hand, having a recognition system that stacks employees against each other does more harm than good. While competing for points might motivate the top performers to try even harder, it can be demoralizing for those at the bottom of the competition, and even make employees to act poorly in order to win.


Sounding the death knell to annual surveys: Having a social engagement strategy means being more communicative with employees, and inviting conversation about the concerns or suggestions that they have. In that vein, annual surveys, which have been on the decline for years, are really the last lingering relic of a time where feedback was barely solicited, and almost always never acted upon. Employers who are committed to collecting continuous, ongoing feedback, and acting on it, then moving past the annual survey into something more real-time and iterative will facilitate that.

Contemporary ways of measuring Employee Engagement


Matching up to the engagement expectations of the hygiene factors of generation Z and millennials, employee engagement programmes are now built on smart cloud data and analytics that is measuring the employee pulse in real time. WorldatWork, a global human resources foundation, divulged the findings of a study in which 54 percent of employees said that short-term incentives have a high impact on engagement, while only 32 percent cited long-term incentives. Several companies are helping workplaces revamp the way they reward their employees, trading company coffee mugs against 6-month memberships to a local gym. Options as such, permit the managers to hand out employee perks online in real time, and some also add these on the social media platform so that the team can openly thank their colleagues for a job well done. Certain critical aspects that are needed to be taken into consideration while designing a new age employee engagement plans are: -  


Encouraging multidirectional feedback and recognition: Recognition should occur across the entire organisation. Develop a strategy that encourages peer-to-peer recognition and feedback, allowing employees to recognize both individual and team accomplishments. In most cases, real-time recognition is more meaningful than the feedback employees receive through annual performance conversations. However, too much recognition can be a bad thing if it is not linked to achievements and contributions.


Making recognition simple and aligned with company values: There is nothing better than the good old face-to-face recognition and an “atta-boy!” Complicated programmes and technologies are disincentives for real-time recognition. User-friendly mobile and social tools make recognition simple. Some platforms also integrate with other technologies to improve manager visibility to feedback for coaching conversations. Employee recognition programmes should align with company values and business objectives.


Working towards succession planning for top performers:  In addition to recognition, employees want to know if you are invested in their careers. Recognition programmes are a great starting point for conversations on career growth. After recognizing employees for hard work and positive results, managers can collaborate with them on a plan for taking the next step in their career.


The platter of Employee Engagement tools


When managers and owners are the sole distributors of recognition and rewards, companies put themselves at a disadvantage. Siloed walls need to be torn down. During times of growth and diversification, it is very easy for departments to come with big walls; adding designers, developers, coders, senior staff and recent graduates, while an array of backgrounds and personalities make it difficult to be highly engaged with everyone. Connecting new hires to the company culture and ethos can also prove to be more difficult. The toxicity mostly stems from the underappreciated. Feeling valued, wanted, appreciated, etc., at one’s job is not some new age, entitled generational issue. It is valid across the board. All human beings do their best when they feel fulfilled, and part of feeling fulfilled is in knowing that their efforts are seen as essential to the company.


Peoplecart: The Peoplecart platform aligns employee teams to organisational priorities through agile feedback, mobile check-ins and instant recognition. With a comprehensive solution of engagement surveys, recognition of peers for demonstrating right behaviours and values, anytime accessibility with a gamified mobile technology platform, real-time insights on engagement through customizable tools such as People Buzz, mentor connect, idea zone, KPI gamification and transition clubs, this engagement platform makes a promising choice.


Officevibe: Officevibe provides a weekly report format that is simple and visual, and identifies the issues specific to the workplace. Knowing what matters to the team and where to focus energies on has never been easier. Officevibe goes the extra mile to help both you and your team improve by pairing every identified issue with advice and strategies to overcome it. Because, even the best teams have room for growth and improvement.


Quantum Workplace: Quantum Workplace provides an all-in-one employee engagement software that makes managers the central drivers of workplace culture. Quantum Workplaces technology gives team leaders direct access to employee feedback and personalized real-time insights, so that they can make work better every day. The software includes features such as surveys, goals, recognition, feedback, one-on-one, and alerts providing a powerful solution for team engagement and improvement.


The Platter of Reward Tools


As HR practitioners choose from the platter of tools now available, an important question they should answer is “what they want out of the programme.” While people should be able to say thank you to each other, rewards need to be aligned towards the direction the company wants to go.




This social-media based recognition programme allows the entire team award points to their colleagues; these points can then be redeemed for a variety of different rewards. They provide a curated master catalogue of gift cards from top retailers and donations to a variety of meaningful charities. Companies can also build in their own rewards such as a day off, Starbucks vouchers, movie tickets for two, bowling game passes, with one company even offering “Coffee from the Boss” where employees redeem points to get a hand delivered coffee from their manager.


To be borne in mind: HR managers need to continuously evaluate if this programme is meeting the overall needs of the company. A pulse check is important to record measurable changes in engagement levels.




This straightforward gift card campaign company allows managers to send gift cards to employees online, and is not chargeable until the gift is redeemed. The platform also allows managers to send out multiple gifts with employee-specific messages while tracking fulfilment. "If an employee chooses Amazon, an employer can make sure to put Amazon in the next reward email," It increases personalization, and is one of the big values that is brought in the reward and recognition calendar.


To be borne in mind: Managers need to evaluate if people already find an intrinsic value in what they are working on, and whether they need direct gifts. If the workforce is doing a common job that is not rewarding, having a clear link between jobs and gift is great. So, someone doing basic data entry or coding might see this as a huge incentive, while an architect or marine biologist might not need this type of carrot.




A social-media based programme, 7Geese is focused on replacing classic HR programmes with online reviews and forms. Managers can set up online goals, people directories and organisation charts so that the team structures are clear. Rewards come in the form of recognition badges that are pinned to the core values of the company. The badges can then be shared on social networks such as Twitter and LinkedIn profiles. Bad reviews are private, but can include requests for one-on-one coaching sessions.


What to keep in mind: Such a programme is best suited to a collaborative workplace with many shared projects, so that teammates could report on project progress, discuss what problems are holding them up, and get feedback from co‑workers. In more competitive workplaces, like a sales office or a call centre, such programmes might not be as close a fit, since co-workers compete with one another. 



This is a corporate social network and a peer-to-peer recognition system designed to engage teams with enhanced communication, collaboration, appreciation, and recognition. Timely and public employee recognition is at the core of this service provider. They get the team talking, sharing and collaborating. From custom pages, birthday invites, themed user profiles, leaderboards, gamified badges, performance dashboard, Kudos provides a wide platter of engagement ideas to choose from. 360-degree employee feedback including anonymous organisational feedback solutions for wellness, training and development and peer to peer recognition are now the key motivating factors. The rise of the millennials in the workforce and their preferences, catalysed by the rage of digitization has led employees to expect a much more fun, engaging and end-to-end solution to their woes. 2018 will see companies and their leaders focus on how to achieve an outstanding employee experience across the lifecycle of an employee. Factors such as work environment, team relationships, professional growth opportunities, company culture, and recognition will be looked at from a fresh perspective.




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