Ten myths about employee engagement

Anna Suslova

There is a lot of information out there about employee engagement. From Harvard Business Review articles to widely sourced whitepapers, thousands of words have followed a headline with “Employee Engagement” in the title. With so much information and data at our fingertips, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed and at times, skeptical. It has become increasingly challenging to pinpoint and determine what information is accurate and in turn, worth absorbing. Apart from hindering decision making, information overload has also led to the creation of many myths and misconceptions.

Over the years, you’ve probably heard contradictory messages about what can help motivate and retain your top talent. So, we sorted through all of the information to identify and debunk the ten most common myths about employee engagement.

Myth #1: Higher salaries equal higher employee retention

It may come as a surprise to many, but money doesn’t motivate employees as much as you might think. According to yet another Harvard Business Review article, company culture matters more than salary for most employees. During a job search, a fair compensation is seen as a requirement, rather than a motivator. Salary negotiation is a huge part of recruiting, but won’t always incentivize your coworkers to go the extra mile.

Employees will consider a variety of factors and benefits when deciding whether to stay at their current position or take a new job, including:

  • How is the work-life balance?
  • Does my employer provide good health insurance?
  • Does the position offer an opportunity for advancement and growth?
  • Are the assigned projects stimulating and rewarding?

Myth #2: Employee engagement is only a trend

Fads come and go quickly, but the need for engaged coworkers remains steady. The key to improving your company’s bottom line is keeping your employees’ productivity levels high, and that never goes out of style. Take the time to find out what gives your coworkers a sense of accomplishment and incentivizes them to perform better. Use these findings to create and implement the right engagement strategy for your workplace.

Myth #3: There isn’t any data to back up recognition programs

The two most common excuses for why companies don’t want to implement incentive programs are lack of sufficient data and cost. But both of these arguments stand against significant established evidence. There are dozens of case studies and research papers available that show how incentive programs can positively impact employee engagement, productivity, and retention.

Here are just a few note-worthy facts and statistics regarding employee incentives that might change your opinion on these recognition programs:

  • Organizations with “the most mature employee recognition strategies” are 12 times more likely to have strong business results.
  • About 30% of U.S. workers ‘strongly agree’ that they received recognition for doing good work in the past week.
  • It’s common for U.S. workers to feel that their best efforts are regularly ignored.
  • Employees who don’t feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to quit in the next year.
  • Companies with strategic recognition reported a mean employee turnover rate that is 4% lower than retention at companies without any recognition program.

Myth #4: It’s all about the money

An employee recognition program can be costly. However, a program doesn’t need to cost your company a fortune in order to be successful and effective. In fact, 85% of companies that spend as little as 1% of payroll on recognition see a “positive impact on engagement.”

Myth #5: Recognition programs have no impact on ROI

The notion that rewarding your employees doesn’t affect your company’s ROI can be challenged by looking at the numbers presented in a recent Watson Wyatt HCI study. One category that makes up the Human Capital Index score, or HCI, is “Total Rewards and Accountability.” The report concludes that better human capital management, including recognition programs, leads to improved financial performance:

  • Low-HCI companies have a 21% total return on shareholder value
  • Medium-HCI companies a have 39% total return on shareholder value; and
  • High-HCI companies have a 64% total return on shareholder value.

Myth #6: Only low performers need motivation

A common misconception about top performers is that they’re self-motivated workers. But the bottom line is that all employees need to be incentivized, whether the goal is to encourage them to keep up the good work or push them to perform better. Every worker, regardless of baseline, should be offered professional development opportunities and rewarded for great performance.

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Myth #7: It’s trickier to engage Millennials

What are the first characteristics that come to mind if you were asked to describe a Millennial? This generation is typically stereotyped as being lazy, easily offended, and with a knack for job-hopping. But recent studies have suggested otherwise. Workers between the ages of 18 to 35 are “just as likely to stick with their employers” as those belonging to Generation X. And although they’re as committed to their jobs as their older coworkers, Millennials are not rewarded for that loyalty. So, when it comes to incentives, don’t exclude the younger workforce and remember that each employee values different things, no matter their age.

Myth #8: Company name is enough to keep employees around

If you solely rely on your company’s brand name to keep engagement and retention levels high, you need to start rethinking your employee satisfaction strategy. The company name might be one of the initial reasons a candidate applies for a job, but brand loyalty only goes so far. Employees need to feel important, respected, and appreciated. If they aren’t assigned relevant projects or given regular feedback, you will notice a significant drop when it comes to their productivity. Focus on building a strong relationship with each employee and acknowledge how their specific role contributes to the company’s overall success.

Myth #9: Employee engagement is only HR’s responsibility

Many of us think that the HR department is solely accountable for finding and implementing suitable ways to create an engaging and a productive work culture. Contrary to this assumption, managers are the first ones who should be working to improve employee engagement. In addition to learning about different engagement strategies on an on-going basis, the organization’s upper management should also take responsibility for implementing these strategies.  

Myth #10: Happy employees are engaged employees

Although motivation and satisfaction are two distinct terms, many employers still believe that a happy workforce automatically signifies high levels of engagement. In reality, satisfied workers can be completely disengaged from the company, while unhappy employees can be working extremely hard to achieve organizational success. Think about the two terms for a moment – satisfaction refers to being content, whereas engagement involves emotional commitment. If your coworkers are content with their jobs, what is going to incentivize them to perform better? Without emotional commitment to the company and its goals, happy employees won’t feel motivated to outperform any of your expectations.

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