Rules of engagement: why we’re still working on making people happy at work

Back in the day, the motivational theories of Abraham Maslow and Frederick Herzberg were considered de rigeur.  They’re founded on the idea that people have basic needs, and that job satisfaction depends on whether those needs are met (or not).  It’s perception of this that influences an individual’s sense of motivation and engagement at work.

So in the last 70-odd years since these theories were written, what has really changed? A quick scan of relevant Harvard Business Review papers written in the last 12 months would suggest not much.

It seems that treating employees like individuals, helping them feel aligned with the organisation they work for, and supporting them to develop in the direction that fits their goals are all in the mix.

Why are we still working at engaging employees?

Employee engagement has become a big deal as businesses have switched on to the idea that happy employees are more productive.  And that’ll affect their bottom line, of course. Again nothing new here either - just have a look back at the Hawthorn Effect defined back in the 1930’s. 

We have been talking about how to engage employees since the emergence of the modern workplace and modern working practices, yet we still haven’t got it tapped.  Why is that?

Perhaps it’s because making people happy at work is quite a hard thing to do.   Psychologists would agree that attaining and maintaining personal happiness requires effort, so should organisations expect to make their employees happy without considerable effort, care and investment?

What about L&D?

Learning and development has, for years, been seen as one way in which employers can engage their people.  Of course everyone wants to be trained, don’t they? Employees are likely to feel more supported, valued and motivated if their employer has spent some time and money on their development.

Therefore, adopting some basic principles as to how you manage and support learning could go some way to helping employees feel that little bit happier about their working life. Here are my three suggestions for where to start.

  1. Explore ‘why’
    not just in terms of why someone wants to do a particular piece of learning but why they want to develop and grow in a particular direction
  1. Encourage ‘individuality’
    don’t just play lip service to the concept of individual learning. Invest time in finding out how, then use technology to enable learners to take ownership of their own development

  2. Ensure ‘alignment’
    build a learning culture that reflects ‘how you do things around here’, adopt tools that fit your organisation’s culture rather than just jumping onto to the next big thing. Make sure it all joins up to make one culture and experience.

Our latest guide takes a more in-depth look at why L&D should and can work hand in hand with employee engagement. Happy people are productive people - and who doesn’t want that?

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