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Giving every employee a voice: why CEOs should jump off the pedestal

By Marcus Thornley, CEO of Play Consulting

February 3 2017 - While millennial attitudes question traditional views of the employee structure and contract, HR teams are being challenged to create a more engaging and involved workforce. This phase of disarrangement is highlighted by a CIPD survey that shows less than half (39%) of staff are enagaged with their jobs.

Open-minded HR departments can reap the rewards of building an engaged workforce and unlock the benefits this creates for the business as a whole. By adopting a two-way working environment employees are more likely to display job satisfaction. Freedom, trust and the ability to make an impact are all factors that can lead to employee happiness, retention, improved business performance and additional efforts.

Showing acknowledgment, value and means of motivation are some of the ways in which a business can deliver an engaged workforce. An understanding of the importance of content, reward and humanisation are key elements to achieving this, ultimately breaking down the traditional order and creating happy yet hard-working teams.

Valued employees will feel engaged

Employees are not only motivated by transactional rewards such as salaries and bonuses. Appreciation, acknowledgement and impact are also fundamental to inspiring an employee's need to develop as an individual, as well as working towards the improvement of the business. Employees are no different to management and, like all people, want to know that their input and efforts are valued and that their contribution is an important part of the business.

Abraham Maslow suggested his 'hierarchy of needs' over 60 years ago - a psychological theory that argues a sense of belonging is a fundamental job specification for employees and something that companies must recognise in order to attract and keep the best talent.

These human needs are broken into a five-tier model, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid, which are then broken down into three further deficiency sections - basic, psychological and self-fulfillment. Maslow highlights that it is possible for every person to move towards a level of self-actualisation, if they desire, however progress is often disputed by failure to meet lower level needs.

At Play, we believe it is essential for all levels of the business to recognise these needs and unlock the associated motivation, satisfaction and unity. An organisation can practically deliver on these desires by re-assessing notions of communication, transparency and ownership, bringing the business into the 21st Century with modern attitudes to employee communication.

Sharing content to break down barriers

One method that can stimulate organisational unity is consistent content sharing within the business, including visibility with the (often elusive) c-level executives. By content, I don't just mean corporate updates or company-wide emails, but the sharing of inspiring, interesting and 'likeable' information that sets an open and inclusive agenda.

For example, if a CEO spends a lot of time travelling around the world, sharing a photo of a recent visit to see teams in another country office, or an update on any 'rising stars' who have gone 'above and beyond' will naturally make them appear more approachable and connected to the organisation. Likewise, when a team achieves their latest target milestone, they could share a group picture to encourage others to do the same, while motivating their team by proactively showcasing their combined success.

This immediate interaction, though not direct, makes all employees feel involved in some way or another; and by making top level executives visible employees are reassured that the organisation is managed by approachable, personable individuals. Furthermore, by permitting all levels of the workforce to share what they have been doing, achieved or how they have gone 'above and beyond', organisations can impart a sense of worth, awareness and personality.

By stipulating content that brings work to life, employee understanding of the ways that every person in the company is contributing to the business increases significantly. Real-time updates and useful information can motivate and inspire others to imitate these achievements or share their own 'winning moments' across a company-wide platform.

Rewarding as a shared responsibility

Another part of the democratisation process is providing the opportunity for all employees, including senior management, to acknowledge and applaud any highlights and successes.

Employee recognition typically remains the exclusive role of management across many businesses, whether it's sharing through praise, rewards or badges. However, this recognition is crammed into formal and infrequent appraisal systems, where 'in the moment' achievements can go unnoticed. Employees are often not given the opportunity to play an active role in highlighting successes within their peer group or the managerial team, as accolades are filtered through from the top down.

A shared responsibility that can empower and engage every employee can be achieved by allowing anyone in the business to give rewards and recognition to any colleague, including those in a higher position than themselves. The most effective employee engagement schemes are those where management teams do not diminish all obligation, but adapt their top-down approach to one where they enthusiastically support and advocate recognition company-wide.

This links back to employees wanting to be valued and acknowledged by their peers. A rewards system is a simple yet effective way of achieving this, and a scheme employees would be thankful for.

Providing a voice for employees

Organisations that display a sense of community and shared purpose understand the importance of employee engagement through the democratisation of the workplace. By successfully breaking down the traditional hierarchy structure, businesses provide staff with a voice by encouraging them to think about their careers in a fresh way, rather than climbing up the corporate ladder to be noticed.

An open rewards system will instead allow employees to see progresstion as a series of positive incentives that are open to employees at all levels, while highlighting the potential to have the same career opportunities as their peers.

This new way of working does not need to entirely flatten existing structures, but should be seen as a solid approach to improving the level of engagement and communication across a business. The result is a professional environment where achievement and success are recognised by all, new ideas and innovation are cultivated and employee satisfaction, productivity and loyalty increase at all levels.

Marcus Thornley

Marcus Thornley







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