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When employees are treated with dignity, they are twice as likely to be engaged: Prof Brad Shuck

Sonal Khetarpal     July 19, 2018

Companies all over are trying to crack the Employee Value Proposition (EVP) code to determine the benefits to offer for an engaged workforce, that is motivated and happy, as more and more employers realise that it's a two-way street where employees reciprocate as they receive. Dr Brad Shuck, Associate Professor of Organizational Leadership & Learning at University of Louisville, Kentucky speaks to Business Today on the importance of treating employees with dignity and giving them recognition that is personal and in real time.

BT: What are some of the ways in which companies can create a culture where employees feel cherished and valued?

Shuck: One way is for companies to build a culture where employees feel cherished and valued - and this is going to sound really unimaginative - is by treating all the employees on their team with dignity.

In our research on leader behaviour we asked more than 2,000 employees about their leader and things like employee engagement, intent to turnover, how hard they work, etc. Of all of the behavioural traits, the number one that emerged was when their leaders treated them with dignity they were almost twice as likely to be engaged, want to stay, work hard, and for many of our participants, they reported higher levels of overall wellbeing. And the thing about dignity is it's free.

But it is not about treating just a few people you like with dignity, or just the people on your team - it is about asking whether we allow people to do dignified work here, do we honour the space they live in, and do we have policies and procedures that are grounded in treating people well, not because it is easy, or we will make money, but because it is the right thing to do. Those are far harder questions, but, essential for every leader. When you get this right, you'll get your EVP right.

BT: How has companies' view on employee engagement changed over the years? What are some of the latest trends?

Shuck: The view has changed from the employee side, than perhaps the employer side. This is what an employee value proposition is all about - it puts the responsibility of engagement and creating a workplace that attracts the right people, retains the right talent, and provides opportunities for career development back to the leadership. Engagement is about being intentional and creating a place of work where talented, smart, dedicated and engaged employees come to work and they want stay.

This had led companies to rethink the rewards and recognition space, and in people development. For decades, organizations managed their people and that only got us so far; but now, intentional and thoughtful development of your workforce is a value proposition that no one can deny.

There is also a shift in leadership. While the old top down, Theory X and Theory Y styles of management and transactional forms of leadership may never fully go away, we are seeing a shift to more compassionate leadership and shared responsibility. A leader, who can inspire them to do their best work, treats them with dignity, is present with them in the moment, is authentic and comes from a place of integrity.

BT: EVP is recently gaining a lot of traction from companies especially with its focus on customized programs for individuals, but companies don't seem to be able to crack the EVP code. What are some common mistakes organizations are making?

Shuck: The first common mistake they are making is that they are going at it alone. It is bad advice to fix some things yourself. If your car breaks down, you go to a mechanic; if you need a surgery, you go to a doctor but for some reason, in the leadership development and employee value proposition space, leaders mistakenly think that they can go at it alone and this is a problem. It works to hire a specialist in the area.

The second common mistake is that leaders are letting practice drive principle, that is, companies just adopt that new idea that looks promising without taking into account if it's right for their culture, employees and industry. The principles that drive your unique employee valuation proposition should always drive your practice; never the other way around.

Third, companies don't focus on moments that matter and limit it to that first day of work, recognition ceremony, and promotions which don't have much personal meaning. But that's a mistake. Finding those moments that matter and creating joy around it, is about knowing EVP. If you do not know what moments are the most important to your employees, it is time to start thinking very seriously about it.

BT: What are some of the metrics companies use to measure the success of their engagement programs.

Shuck: The trend of surveying employees each year and looking at the results is not helpful - for one, it is a lag measure and you cannot do anything about what someone said three months ago on an anonymous survey. Also, people often do not believe it is confidential, so they do not tell the truth, and finally, leader compensation is tied to those results, so people tend to cheat the system - so things like pulse surveys, focus groups, and real time data analytics are the trend of the future.

A few of the common mistakes that companies tend to make is they ask employees about their levels of satisfaction and then equate that to engagement, or a value proposition, and those things could not be further from each other. One is static and non-moving (satisfaction) while the other has direction and intensity (engagement). The vast majority of companies that I have worked with are asking about satisfaction and then making adjusts to increase engagement on bad data. This is a problem and that practice leads to confusing results. If you want to measure engagement, ask people about how engaged they are, and define what engagement means. I cannot tell you how many executive offices I have been in and seen binder after binder of survey data, with increasing levels of dust on them based on what year the survey was given.

Instead, you should use the data - and ask questions that matter, that have meaning, or better yet - let your employees own the data and the experience and involve them in the process. If you are going to ask the questions, use the answers you get instead of hiding them in binders. Creating a winning and sustainable employee value proposition is not about a number -- instead, it is about involving everyone in way that helps them see that their voice is heard and to know that the work they do matters. The relationship is always reciprocal, and engagement is never transactional, it is transformational. Get this right and your company - not to mention your people - will never be the same again. 

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