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The Secret to Employee Engagement Is Pride

Toby Graham /
blurred office meeting

Motivation is a funny thing. We need it as much we need food, water, or air—it’s the only reason anything gets done—and yet it’s wildly difficult to manufacture and maintain. Motivation to do one’s job (i.e. employee engagement) is as powerful as it is fickle. It can keep us going in the face of extreme challenge or stress, but slip away when we need it most. And it frequently has nothing to do with external circumstances. You could be earning millions of dollars, curing cancer, or facing a critical deadline in twenty minutes and still have no motivation to do the work in front of you.

The problem with motivation is that it’s a feeling. Addressing it isn’t like tackling other issues in the workplace. You can’t fix low employee engagement with a new piece of equipment or through business process optimization. You can’t throw money at it—an increase in salary doesn’t always translate to higher productivity or retention

Instead, you need to go deeper. The key word for employee engagement is meaning. Money pales in comparison to the opportunity to do fulfilling work. In fact, many people would take a pay cut if it meant taking a more meaningful job.

So, how do you create meaning in the workplace? Again, it doesn’t have much to do with money. The answer isn’t to increase HR spending or to bring in motivational speakers. Rather, as writer and Fast Company co-founder Bill Taylor explains in a recent article for Harvard Business Review, it’s about giving employees a reason to feel proud about what they do.

To put it simply, people want to feel proud of their work.

Taylor writes:

“A few years back, for example, I studied the customer-service transformation at Mercedes-Benz USA, the sales-and-service arm of the German automaker. Leadership could not understand why the client experience at its dealerships seemed so unremarkable even though the cars themselves were so extraordinary. They had plenty of policies, practices, and financial incentives for frontline employees. The problem, as one senior leader told me, was that ‘pride in the brand was not quite as strong as we thought, the level of engagement with the work not as deep as we thought.’ Dealers could train more, and even pay more, but until frontline people genuinely cared more, it was hard for them to serve customers with an authentic sense of connection.

So Mercedes devised a creative set of grassroots initiatives to instill pride and incite passion. For example, it invited more than 20,000 frontline employees, the vast majority of whom had never driven a Mercedes vehicle outside the dealership lot, to spend 48 hours with a model of their choice, to get a feel for not just how the cars perform, but how they can turn heads when you pull into a church parking lot or high-school football game. The company also built a Brand Immersion Center at its huge manufacturing complex near Birmingham, Alabama, where thousands of employees will visit to, well, get immersed in the history of Mercedes-Benz and see for themselves how the cars are built. ‘Once folks see the levels of excellence we achieve to produce these cars,’ a Mercedes executive told me, ‘they’ll understand that it’s our obligation to create a customer experience on par with that.’”

Read “Do You Give Employees a Reason to Feel Proud of What They Do?”

Organizations of all kinds use KPA’s workforce management tools to maximize employee motivation, productivity, and retention. With software, on-demand HR expertise, and award-winning training courses on your side, busywork will never get in the way of meaning. Learn more.

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