Employee Engagement and The Platinum Rule

We’ve all heard of the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. When it comes to employee engagement; however, the Golden Rule isn’t good enough. We need to step up and focus on the Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them”. In other words, treat people the way they want to be treated, not the way you want to be treated.

This is probably one of the most important (and least understood!) factors in employee recognition, motivation, and ultimately, engagement. Here are a few simple examples:

  1. A manager publicly recognizes an employee who (she knows) hates being singled out.
  2. When rewarding the sales team, the manager gives each member the same gift in order to be fair – but the gift is totally inappropriate for two team members.
  3. A recent hire mentions that frequent, specific feedback is very important to him since he is focused on professional development and wants to advance quickly—so his manager makes a point of saying “well done” more often.

These scenarios are common. And each of them contributes to disengagement, because they fail to implement the Platinum Rule. If you want truly engaged employees, let them know that what matters to them, matters to you too.

What exactly is employee engagement?

Employee engagement is described in many ways: ­­from being passionate about the organization, to being emotionally invested in the business, or simply “present”. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) defines employee engagement as “being positively present during the performance of work by willingly contributing intellectual effort, experiencing positive emotions and meaningful connections to others”.

Why you should care about employee engagement

The conversation about employee engagement has become increasingly important in recent years, as companies struggle to find and keep the best talent in a rapidly changing HR environment.  Gallup has estimated that actively disengaged employees (the least productive workers) cost the American economy up to $350 billion per year in lost productivity, including absence, illness and other problems that result when employees are not engaged.[1]  The Towers Perrin Global Workforce Study found that 65% (of 32,000 surveyed globally) are not highly engaged[2]. Even more troubling, not only is employee disengagement increasing, the majority of managers seem unwilling or unable to combat it[3].

The challenge for HR is finding effective ways to reverse the trend and foster connection and commitment within this increasingly disengaged workforce. To rise to this challenge, start with the basics. It’s generally agreed that certain fundamentals help support a more engaged workforce, including:

  • Interesting work that is valued by the organization
  • Clear expectations and good communication from the manager
  • The feeling that their opinion counts
  • A sense of how the work fits in the “big picture” and contributes to the company’s mission
  • The required tools and resources to perform the job properly
  • Opportunities to excel and recognition when they do
  • Opportunities to grow, and feedback to support that development
  • Co-workers they like and respect, who are committed to doing good work

Then take it up a notch. At the end of the day, it’s about understanding what matters to individuals and reflecting that understanding in the way you interact with them. The best intentions in the world won’t keep your employees engaged if you are still acting on your preferences instead of theirs.

Just as your marketing department defines the customer profiles and personas that make up their target market and gets inside their heads to market to them effectively. In the same way, an effective HR professional and committed manager will strive to find out what makes their people tick and what makes them shut down. This knowledge then informs the way they communicate, recognize and develop their people. And then they discover gold in their employees by following the Platinum Rule.

[1] Krueger, J. and Killham, E. (2005). At work feeling good matters; happy employees are better equipped to handle workplace relationships, stress and change according to the latest GMJ survey [Electronic version]. Gallup Management Journal. Available from http://www.gallup.com/

[2] The Human Capital Institute has calculated the productivity impact based on levels of engagement. A highly engaged employee contributes at 120% of their pay. An engaged employee contributes at 100% of pay. A disengaged employee contributes at 80% of their pay. Finally a highly disengaged employee contributes at only 60% of their pay.

[3] Richard Pech, Bret Slade, (2006) “Employee disengagement: is there evidence of a growing problem?”, Handbook of Business Strategy, Vol. 7 Iss: 1, pp.21 – 25

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