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Are Your Engagement Initiatives an Adrenaline Shot?

The other day someone asked a question in one of the HR forums I read daily. The organization is a distribution center with warehouse and front office employees. The dilemma was that the office employees were currently working on a hybrid schedule and the warehouse workers were unable to work a hybrid schedule and probably never have. I would assume that they have no plans of bringing the office employees back to the office full-time as it's very hard to take something away once it has been proven to work and is valuable to employee engagement. The HR professional was looking for suggestions on incentives that might work with the warehouse staff to try and help keep things fair. They indicated that the company had been buying them lunch on a regular basis, but the employees had grown tired of this.

In my response to the question asker, I did not say this, but in what world does buying lunch remotely compare to hybrid working? Anyway, this is a perfect example of what I would like to talk about in this week's blog. Giving your employees a perk is like giving them an adrenaline shot to keep them happy and engaged. No employee comes into an organization unhappy. They are usually excited about the new path they are about to embark on. they have this great onboarding experience and then something happens and reality starts to set in. Then once a year the employee engagement survey comes out and the scores are not what the organization expected. So they add a perk, and the scores go up. they slowly start to drop again and they add another perk and so on. Meanwhile, companies are investing more and more into their engagement programs and not seeing the ROI they are expecting.

While employee engagement incentives may initially appear attractive to employees, they are only a temporary solution. Employees are smart, and they know what the organization is trying to do. Distract them with perks. Sure being bought lunch every now and again is a nice surprise to say thank you but if it is something the organization relies on it begins to wear thin and it starts to feel like manipulation. What do people do when they feel like they are being manipulated? They dig in deeper and refuse to give more. They are no longer disillusioned and realize they are still working for the same company, facing the same internal challenges. As a result, employees become less loyal, less engaged, and less motivated to contribute to the organization.

So how do you break out of this cycle? By focusing more on employee experience than employee engagement.

Employee experience aims to correct and change core workplace practices in four areas: leadership, culture, technology, and physical space. Instead of just giving an adrenaline shot to boost engagement scores, reimagine the employee experience and create changes that matter and make a lasting impact.

My response to the two different site schedules

I am sure there are a lot of companies facing the same situation, where some employees can work from home and some need to be onsite every day. Using what I know about human-centred design thinking, my first suggestion is that you should never assume you know what your employees want or need and you should ask them. Sure you will get some answers that just are not feasible but you may get something that could work for you too. You never really know what is in someone's heart or mind unless you ask them.

In human centred-design thinking the first thing you need to do is gather data. You can gather and collect this data in several ways. Employee records, focus groups and surveys are just some of the ways you can gather the data you need.

Then create a persona for your warehouse workers. Look at their demographics and the things that affect their work-life balance. How far are they travelling? How are they travelling? Do they have families or are they single? What is the common age? education? etc. Ask questions about the environment they work in. Do you have multiple shifts,? How many days a week do they work, is there overtime? Do you have different skill sets among the workers? Are you just trying to be fair or are you trying to mitigate something? Are you having retention issues, engagement issues, or H&S issues? This information is all-important for your business case.

Then you want to look for solutions that actually mitigate the circumstances and increase your employer brand. Next is the ideation stage. Not all ideas are good ideas. Here are a couple of things that brainstormed: (For most of these you are going to have some cost to them and will probably be more expensive than lunch so you will need to do the math, look at the ROI and create a business case.)

  • Flexible scheduling: Allow employees to have more control over their schedules, adjusting start and end times to better accommodate their personal needs.

  • Four-day work week: No change in pay. rotating schedule or solid schedule. You could do 10-hour days (some payroll complications and they may not be working for the extra 2 hours) or 8 hours days (results in an increase in hourly wage) - you may need to add extra workers and have shift schedules adding a level of complication and cost to the business

  • Longer lunch or break time no reduction in pay.

  • Transportation Compensation: a transportation allowance added to their pay (this will be taxed and may be seen as a disadvantage for the worker) Gas gift cards, Transit passes

The below will probably not compensate enough to make a difference and may act more like perks.

  • Extra health and wellness benefits: access to mental health resources or wellness programs like a gym membership or a wellness app, a work therapist

  • Recognition and appreciation: Show appreciation and recognition for employees who are putting themselves on the line to be on-site, such as offering shoutouts in company newsletters or highlighting their contributions in company-wide meetings.

  • Career development opportunities: Offer training, education, or career development opportunities that can help employees grow professionally and feel valued for their contributions to the company which would allow them to get out of the warehouse.

Good luck and make sure you are creating something that is fair and equally valued. Hopefully, it is not a short-time fix for a long-term problem. How and where people work is a big issue that can't be solved without knowing each individual employee's needs.


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