How’s That Employee Engagement Project Working?

Employees are feeling beaten down. Can you blame them? Their commitment to their organizations is being sapped by frozen salaries, staff cuts, organizational inertia, endless reorganizations, and poor quality communications. High-skilled employees depart, opting to pursue more rewarding work elsewhere, leaving fewer people around to do the work.

That’s not how you would characterize life at your utility, would you?

But that’s exactly how federal employees described their workplace in the seventh annual Best Places to Work in the Federal Government survey. “Even workers at layoff-battered private companies are more optimistic than government employees, who historically have had far more job security,” according to an article in The Washington Post. Many federal employees gave particularly low marks to their leaders for communication.

Raise your hand if the Dilbert cartoon below has the ring of truth at your utility.

A number of utilities have gone through “employee engagement” initiatives in recent years, and there’s every reason to think more will be on the way in 2013. It’s not unusual for me to hear a utility communicator say their organization has made improving employee engagement one of its top priorities.

Despite the best intentions of corporate leaders, efforts to improve employee engagement often fall short. Frederick Hertzberg explains why in his classic article in Harvard Business Review, One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?

If you don’t have the time or inclination to read Hertzberg’s article, this Dilbert cartoon strip gives a fair summary:

“The factors involved in producing job satisfaction (and motivation) are separate and distinct from the factors that lead to job dissatisfaction,” Hertzberg writes. His article details nine myths of employee motivation, including the idea that increased or improved workplace communication can, by itself, improve employee satisfaction.

Poor quality communications can lead to extreme employee dissatisfaction, Hertzberg acknowledges. So improving workplace communication can lead to a less dissatisfied workforce, a necessary first step on the road to more fulfilled and engaged workers. But improving workplace communication will not, on its own, result in employees who are more satisfied (i.e., engaged, motivated, committed, to use today’s vernacular). Instead, Hertzberg asserted, based on considerable quantitative evidence, job satisfaction comes from achievement, recognition, performing quality work, and advancing in your career.

HBR published Hertzberg’s article in 1968. Yet it remains highly relevant today, more than 40 years later. The article bears reading (or re-reading), in case your utility is considering an employee engagement initiative.

If utilities fail to provide employees with challenging, satisfying work, they will not have engaged, committed employees. Utilities will get the best out of their employees to the extent that they create and sustain an environment where employees can be challenged to perform meaningful work, grow professionally, and advance.






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