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If a company wants to engage its employees and see them do truly outstanding work for the customers, is it simpler and easier to just pay them more? Ah, if only it were that simple! While everyone would be pleased to receive a raise, that is one of the best ways to increase cost without necessarily generating any substantial benefit. Imagine the cost of raising an entire payroll 10% - and imagine how much impact a 10% raise would have for any one person. It's a nice-to-have but would it make someone dissatisfied more inclined to stay? Go further for the customer? Likely not, if other factors are missing.

Effectively compensating and motivating employees is actually about a lot more than just money.

The Employee "Contract"
Each company has its own offer to its staff that is about more than just the pay: not a formal bargaining agreement, but the practical expectations the organization has for its staff, and the practical expectations staff have in return. Within any organization, people can reasonably expect to get any one or two of the below three work aspects - but it's rare to find all three in one role.

At any given organization, each employee is offered a work situation and compensation package that is intended to be appropriate for the situation. For some organizations, the 'contract' is good money or good career prospects with the expectation of working long hours. For others, it is routine work for average pay, but with set hours. So, for example, companies that offer important work and good money are likely to demand long hours and a commitment to working during off periods. One example of this is medical professionals - what they do is certainly important and helps other people, and they may earn good compensation, but they are rarely 'off the job'. Whatever the agreement is, as long as employees understand and agree to that 'contract', they are likely to be on board with the situation.

It is very important for organizations to fully understand what 'contract' they are offering to their employees - and what employees are expecting. If an organization keeps this informal but important agreement in mind, they can tailor their approach to attracting, retaining and motivating key talent. And if employees feel that the 'contract' is not being met by their employer, they can become very dissatisfied (even while still receiving a good salary.) So, back to that example of medical professionals - imagine if you had skilled medical staff who are not allowed to do something they see as important to see to the comfort of their patients. Those professionals may become unhappy, but still be paid fairly relative to others with the similar job. As a result, an employer may not realize why staff are becoming dissatisfied in a situation like that. It is therefore important to keep information flowing so that the organization knows when that 'contract' is falling short in one way or another.

There are many aspects that employees consider when they evaluate whether their employer is holding up their end of the bargain. One is career growth and opportunity; others include learning and ability to extend one's skill set. One area that is consistently important across organizations is communication. While many are aware that communication is by and large a good thing, what are the practical ramifications? Is 'more' communication the same as 'better' communication? Of course, we know that there is more to effective communication than sending out lots of emails. Effective communication is ongoing and two-way, with employees feeling like they have an adequate say in the aspects of their job that concern them. For example:

  • Hotel staff may want to be able to pass concerns about problems clients encounter or room rates to their superiors, so that decision makers can understand sources of frustration for clientele.
  • Retail employees may want to be kept informed of upcoming promotions or sales so they can advise customers and generate excitement. They also may have valuable suggestions as to what types of promotions are most motivating for hard to engage customers.
  • Employees at a packaged goods company may have great ideas about new varieties of product, and wish that someone would ask them.
  • Medical professionals find it important to fully understand policies and procedures, and when to implement them - and also may want a say in how they are formed and acted upon.

Of course there are many, many other examples, but these give a sense that this type of two-way communication is not limited to one industry, job type or job level.

When considering communication methods, some employers are starting to realize that they can engage staff by implementing ongoing processes. While most companies have an annual or less frequent satisfaction survey, the ones that excel at keeping employees engaged go beyond basic satisfaction and maintain communication channels such as having:

  • Forums to share new ideas for products or services
  • Postings or discussions about social events, jokes or charitable giving
  • Portals or newsletters about new opportunities, conferences and learning
  • Surveys or emails that keep new hires moving along a 'To Do' list or learning process
  • Forums and chats about mentoring and sharing of experiences internally

Advancing communications takes a commitment to listening to employees as well as sharing information. There are many ways to advance an effective communications program - and employee panels can help. Implementation of an employee panel allows employers to listen to employees and get an effective 'temperature check' as to how employees are feeling, but also allows spontaneous ideas and suggestions to flow. A company may not be able to give everyone a nice raise tomorrow, but they can listen and keep employees engaged.

* In case you were wondering, "Benjamins" is US slang for 'money', after the fact that American $100 bills feature Benjamin Franklin. - Ed.

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