The Search for Sustainable Employee Engagement

Firm leaders throughout the country are looking for ways to increase employee engagement and motivation. Often, they are frustrated when they hear reports that the only answer is increasing employee compensation. While compensation is undoubtedly important, I believe if we focus strictly on compensation we will miss some of the most important drivers of engagement and motivation.

Compensation is a short-term motivator. Ultimately, employees look for a firm and a position where their values are met, core skills are utilized and work tasks align with personal interests.  Compensation does help attract and retain employees but “sustainable engagement” requires much more than money. Sustainable engagement is a combination of:

  • Traditional engagement—employees’ willingness to expend discretionary effort.
  • Enablement—the tools, resources and support employees need to do their jobs effectively.
  • Energy—a work environment that supports employee well-being.

The PCPS Top Issues surveys consistently highlight the same retention factors:

  • Salary
  • Professional development opportunities
  • Work/life balance
  • Open-door/accessible management
  • Interesting, challenging client projects

The order of importance may change from year to year, but all are essential factors in retaining your top talent and should be a priority. Too often, firms spend enormous amounts of time, energy and resources working on compensation increases and bonuses while neglecting other retention factors.  If you want to make engagement truly sustainable, a substantial amount of time and energy should also be spent on the remaining factors.

Making engagement sustainable

Sustainable engagement is an essential evolution in the science of workforce behavior.  It recognizes that employees need support from their employer to continue to give discretionary effort on the job. Unfortunately, employees are not getting the level of support they need.  Enablement and energy are critical factors in this equation. Engagement will only hold over time with these elements in place.  Think about your firm.  How much time are you spending as a leadership group working on the full list above?  If you think you have the answer, you might be surprised when you ask your team what they think.

Understanding engagement gaps

It is vital for leadership to understand the gap between what they are thinking and what the team is thinking in regards to engagement. There are several ways to accomplish an effective engagement evaluation in your firm, including focus groups and surveys.  The more anonymous the group or survey, the more honest feedback you will receive. Identifying existing gaps between what leadership is thinking and the staff’s perceptions and then building goals that will narrow the gap will increase the trust in your firm. When trust increases, so does engagement!

Everyone in the firm is responsible for helping close the gaps in employee’s feelings of enablement and energy – from partners and managers to administration – they should all be included.

Money is important, but so are other factors

Outside of the PCPS studies, many other experts agree that money matters, but they are not the end of the story.  In an article for Forbes, Paula Davis-Laack, founder and CEO of the Davis Laack Stress & Resilience Institute cited three research-backed factors that motivate employees:

  • Regular experiences of autonomy (feeling empowered to make meaningful choices about your work)
  • Relatedness to others (having at least a few high-quality connections with others)
  • Competence (having the ability to master tasks and be effective at what you do)

Think about how these traits intersect with PCPS findings.  PCPS says career growth opportunities, paid personal/vacation time, open door accessible management and interesting, challenging client projects are essential to our top talent.  They are very similar to the study that you see above.  It proves that what we are hearing has merit, and the great firms seeking their vision for future leaders don’t have much further to look than right here.


About the Author

Sandra Wiley, President of Boomer Consulting, Inc., has been lauded for her industry expertise in human resources and training. She is often called the “go-to person” for solutions to the profession’s staffing crisis, citing her wise advice on hiring – and keeping – employees for the rest of their careers.