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Nikki Graves' column on employee perks

Happiness, not convenience, is what employees want from their perks

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But what’s HR to do when a juice bar, free snacks, or even the gaze of an adoring dog at work won’t compensate for a bad boss, questions Nikki Graves, assistant professor of management communication; as well as director of the Business Writing Center, at Emory University, Goizueta Business School.

Social media giant Twitter, Inc.’s New York office offers discounted $10 manicures, at employee’s desks.

Salesforce.com, a San Francisco based customer relationship management company, has a program, adorably titled Puppyforce, which allows employees to bring their dogs to work in pet-friendly offices.

On Club Day at Riot Games, maker of popular multiplayer game League of Legends, employees can learn about a diverse roster of clubs, appealing to everyone from Zumba dancers to improv actors.

Since Gallup published the “State of the American Workplace: Employment Engagement Insights for US Business Leaders” report in 2013, HR departments began to place an unprecedented emphasis on employee engagement.

Gallup defines “engaged” employees as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and contribute to their organisation in a positive manner.

The Gallup report certainly contains motivating evidence: Currently, only 30% of the U.S. workforce is engaged in their work. The ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is roughly 2-to-1, meaning that the vast majority of U.S. workers (70%) are not reaching their full potential.

The top 25% best-managed teams have nearly 50% fewer accidents and 41% quality defects than the 25% worst-managed teams.

The top 25% best-managed teams have nearly 50% fewer accidents and 41% quality defects than the 25% worst-managed teams.

Disengaged workers are more likely to miss work, negatively impact coworkers, and steal from their companies. Disengaged employees obviously have an impact on their companies’ bottom lines, and the cost to the US between $450 billion to $550 billion per year.

On the other hand, Gallup, describes engaged workers as “the lifeblood of the organisation, [who] have significantly higher productivity, profitability, and customer ratings, less turnover and absenteeism, and fewer safety incidents”.

The 30 million engaged employees in the U.S. come up with the most innovative ideas, create most of a company’s new customers, and have the most entrepreneurial energy.

Do happiness initiatives create engaged employees?

According to Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, it depends.

If a company’s happiness initiative includes on-site health care, such as Goldman Sachs’ free on-site specialty health care centers, Clifton gives a thumbs-up: offering on-site health care and day care is “not only the right thing to do; both greatly enhance well-being, which is known to have a direct and positive impact on the bottom line.”

However, Clifton disapproves of happiness initiatives that simply create convenience for employees, such as free lunches and dry cleaning.

Convenience-based incentives, Clifton asserts, offer “no cause and effect in terms of engagement and high performance… the benefit is granular compared to a focus on individual expansion.”

Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, disapproves of happiness initiatives that simply create convenience for employees, such as free lunches and dry cleaning.

Many people find the explosion of happiness initiatives not only misguided, but creepy. On-site nap pods, pool tables, full bars, and movie theaters may sound appealing to some, but many employees prefer more of a public/private divide.

By extension, New Republic writer Josh Kovensky sees the trend of expanding the C-suite to include “chief happiness officers” as malevolent: “Having an officer appointed to direct and proliferate the emotion… presents some issues.

“Besides the eerie similarity between ‘chief happiness officer’ and concepts like ‘ministry of love’ and ‘war on terror’, it represents an intrusion into our emotional lives that should not be permitted to any kind of authority figure—be it corporate or governmental—regardless of intention.”

What’s an HR department to do?

If engaged employees are the lifeblood of companies, but convenience-based happiness initiatives don’t necessary produce engaged employees, what is an HR department to do?

Gallup’s CEO Jim Clifton offers the suggestion to fire the bosses from hell and carefully consider the most important work decision that you can make – who you will hire as new managers.

Clifton acknowledges that many old-school leaders still mistakenly scoff at the so-called soft skills, but that “going forward, we must insist on hiring caring managers. Managers must be driven, love productivity, profitability, and competing, but they must also have an inclination to maximise the potential of every person on their team.”

Employee selection is first on the Gallup report’s list of suggestions of how to create employee engagement. Second on the list is identifying and investing in employee’s strengths.

On-site nap pods, pool tables, full bars, and movie theaters may sound appealing to some, but many employees prefer more of a public/private divide.

The report concludes that people who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged on the job.

Third on the list is enhancing employee’s well-being. Healthy employees lower the cost of health care and are more productive.

In short, a juice bar, free snacks, or even the gaze of an adoring dog at work won’t compensate for a bad boss. Business schools in the process of training future managers will do well to duly note that the marketplace is calling for leaders who are not only smart at numbers, but also at winning hearts and minds.

Image: Shutterstock

HR Vendors of the Year Awards is back again for its 5th year with a fascinating gala night to celebrate the best HR vendors in Hong Kong. Winning is both an affirmation of the exceptional quality of your work in the industry and among peers. Enter Awards now
Contact us now for more details.

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