Mark Craemer No Comments

Raising employee engagement should be the goal of every organization because engaged employees are more productive than those who are not.

Despite the fact that many companies are lavishing their workers with extravagant perks, overall employee engagement is still very low. Seventy percent of the country’s 100 million full-time workers are either not engaged or are actively disengaged.

Three ways to increase employee engagement include the freedom on how to do the work, the option to work on things that interest the individual employee, and the flexibility to work remotely at least part of the time.

A few years ago Netflix created their employee slide deck in which one of the seven aspects of their culture is freedom and responsibility. This includes self-motivation, self-awareness, self-discipline, self-improving, acts like a leader and others.

They found that as companies grow they are typically forced to add more processes and procedures in order to manage the increasing complexity that comes with more employees. These processes and procedures, however, lead only to short-term benefits and often drive the highest performing employees out of the company.

Netflix instead attracted high value people with the freedom to have a big impact, demanded a high performance culture, and provided top of market compensation. So instead of a “culture of process adherence” they have a “culture of creativity and self-discipline, freedom and responsibility.”

As I wrote in a previous post, this freedom takes great courage and faith that your employees will be responsible and accountable for getting things done.  So far, this seems to have paid off for Netflix.

The second area that can help boost employee engagement is enabling workers to follow their interests and passions. This could be similar to what Google provides in “20% Time,” where employees can choose to work on a project or concept that intrigues them to stir innovation. Though not official, there are reports that Google has done away with 20% Time, even though it produced such profitable ventures as Gmail, Google News and Adsense.

The idea of giving employees this freedom is not new as 3M was exploring the use of 15% time for this purpose as far back as the conservative 1950s. Well-known and profitable products like Post-its and masking tape were invented out of this.

There is even a 20-Time in Education that allows students 20% of class time (one day each week) to work on and explore a topic of their choice. Since the world is becoming more interconnected and collaborative, it seems natural to enable learners to begin working in this way before they need to earn a paycheck for it. This means teaching students to be autonomous learners who can guide their own career and discover how to most effectively contribute to a team.

Finally, there is the notion of creating a culture of openness that enables employees to choose not only how they do the work, but also from where.

Nearly 30% of employers now offer telecommuting as a way to improve staff retention rates, and nearly three-quarter of employees say flexible work hours would cause them to choose one job over another.

But is the ability to work remotely really the complete answer?

Gallup recently found that employees who worked remotely ended up working longer hours and were slightly more engaged employees. They found that 32% of employees who worked remotely engaged, while only 28% of those employees working on-site were engaged.

However, it turns out that there was a point of diminishing returns for remote workers. Those spending 20% or less of their time working remotely were found to be the most engaged (35%) and had the lowest level of active disengagement (12%). Working remotely began to decrease engagement levels, however, with more time spent away from the workplace.

There should be a balance between face-time with other workers and flexibility for how the work gets accomplished.

Dave Coplin, chief envisioning officer at Microsoft, in an entertaining look in this RSA animated video, discusses how technology can be part of the problem as well as a potential solution.

Among other things, Coplin says that social networking has changed how we work in that we are now sharing just about everything versus previously when we were sharing only what we chose to share. This sharing inevitably requires a great deal more trust not only in our selves but in each other as well.

The idea of providing employee perks to encourage workers to stay at the office longer can initially attract employees, but giving benefits that stir innovation and lasting employee engagement needs to appeal more to people’s intrinsic motivation.

This means providing people with the freedom on what the work is, how it gets done and where to do it. Accompanying this freedom also requires a degree of trust, responsibility and accountability.  And that’s a formula for increasing employee engagement.

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