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27 Feb 2024

How do you motivate the disengaged?

How do you motivate the disengaged?

This article was featured in The Times as part of Raconteur's Future of HR & Talent report. To download the rest of the report, full of a wealth of insights and information about today's HR & people functions, click here!

There’s never been a one-size-fits-all solution for motivating staff. But, with data from Gallup suggesting more than three quarters of global employees aren’t engaged at work, the answer to this question is more important than ever.


When approaching employee engagement, businesses often fail to ask the right questions. Usually, suggested solutions revolve around asking, ‘What can we give people to get them excited again?’ Answers to this question tend to fall flat, with initiatives like Pizza Fridays and monthly after work “socials” (read: pub trips) rocketing to the top of the leaderboard.

The problem with this – that is, the first problem – is that people log on every day for different reasons. Someone looking for some extra cash will ask why the budget for twenty Dominos pizzas a week couldn’t have instead gone in their pocket. A new parent will be nonplussed by the promise of a free pint after work when they need to get home to relieve their partner of baby duties. Therefore, any initiative an employer brings in to lift up a disengaged workforce must acknowledge and address the many different motivations of those people.


One idea that’s gained traction in recent years is the flexible benefits platform. Exemplified by businesses such as Awardco, Ben, Zest, O.C Tanner & Terry Berry, these platforms allow employers to award their team with points which can then be spent on a variety of options. These points could be given as a monthly allowance, a bonus given for good work, a gift to celebrate a birthday or anniversary, or any number of reasons. As for what can be purchased, there are few limits; most platforms offer a combination of retail vouchers, subscriptions to streaming platforms, gym memberships, experiences, and much more. With a solution like this in place, employees have the ability to prioritise what matters to them without being shoved in a box.


However, while such platforms can form part of a thriving workplace culture, they’re not a cure-all. Employees who are already disillusioned with a business may not be impressed by any efforts to coax them back into the right mindset – they’ll see any such offers as so many carrots on sticks. And, in a way, they’re not wrong. Tackling disengagement from the front, intending simply to get someone to be productive again, ignores the most important question: Why are they disengaged in the first place?

See, these things don’t just happen overnight. A person doesn’t simply wake up one day and decide they’re going to stop bothering at work. There are always contributing factors. Some may be external, with general life getting in the way. Others may be more internal, such as a poor managerial relationship or a particularly heavy workload. With these stressors in mind, one can see how the offer of extrinsic rewards might fail to win someone over. It’s like arguing over what material is best to plug the holes in a sinking dinghy instead of asking what pierced the hull to begin with.


To continue the nautical analogy, you won’t sail very far if your idea of ship maintenance is to wait until something breaks and then patch it up as best you can. Just like the various fixings and furnishings of a boat, employee experience is one smaller part of a larger whole that requires consistent monitoring. If someone is disengaged, it’s often the endpoint of a journey throughout which they haven’t had the right support. It’s a process that goes all the way from recruitment, to onboarding, to training, to daily communication and task management. In a word, it’s about culture.

All of these facets of an employee’s work life can be elevated and optimised with the strategic implementation of technology. This tech can not only make some of that ship maintenance easier and more efficient, some of it can automate it for you! So, next time you’re wondering how to motivate a disengaged employee, perhaps instead ask what’s keeping everyone else from springing the same leaks.

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