We've all heard about amazing work perks some companies offer--being able to bring your dog or baby to work, on-site massage therapists, company-organized carpools, and more. But just because a company offers these great perks doesn't mean it has an amazing employee experience. When I was doing research for my new book, I found these perks fall under employee engagement and don't lead to long-term improvements. In fact, they're often only a temporary adrenaline shot.
When people start working for an organization, they are already engaged. There's a reason they wanted to work for the company, and that usually leads to them being totally on board with how things are done and the company culture. Rarely have I talked to an employee just starting out at an organization who says, "Man! This job is terrible!" The exact opposite is actually true. When employees start working for an organization, they are typically very excited to be there and are very much looking forward to being a part of your team and making an impact. Think back to the jobs you have had in the past. You may have been a bit nervous or scared when starting a new job, but chances are you rarely started feeling unhappy and disengaged. But somewhere down the road we end up with employees that aren't totally engaged and happy, and we often have the engagement scores to back it up. Something happens to turn these already engaged or happy employees into unhappy and disengaged people. This could be anything from a disagreement with coworkers, being overwhelmed by the work, feeling under-appreciated, or myriad of other things. The loss of engagement doesn't often happen all at once, but is typically the sum of lots of smaller things that start to weigh on employees and cause them to lose excitement.
Right about the time employees start to feel disengaged, the organization does one of its employee engagement surveys, and when it sees the negative results the managers say, "What? Our engagement scores are that low? Quick, we need to do something!" At that point some new perks might be introduced. Maybe a flexible work approach is implemented, some office layout changes might happen, and perhaps catered meals a few times a week are introduced, because clearly free food makes us happier. Then things improve a bit in the engagement scores temporarily as employees enjoy the new perk. Eventually, the fact that the perk doesn't solve the underlying problem kicks in the and engagement scores drop again. The perks were a bandaid that ignored a larger problem with employee unhappiness. The lower scores lead to a new engagement survey, which leads to more perks, and the same cycle repeats itself. Time and time again we see that employee engagement simply doesn't lead to lasting change in an organization, especially when these perks and programs aren't based in strategy or completely though through.
Basically, engagement in an organization acts as an adrenaline shot to temporarily boost employee happiness and satisfaction, whereas employee experience is the ongoing design of the organization. Unfortunately, engagement efforts simply feel like manipulation and thus doesn't create trust or loyalty and does nothing to unlock human potential, which also means no business impact for the organization. Employees can often see right through what a company is trying to do when it starts offering free food or longer lunches--it can seem like the organization is simply trying to buy off its employees and keep them happy by throwing perks at them. Instead of using an adrenaline shot, organizations should focus on employee experience to build long-term change and create an environment where employees are happy and want to work, no matter how long they've been with the organization.