Share your values and motivate your staff

Only one in four employees is fully engaged at work. New research shows that having staff who share the company’s values is key to improving motivation and suggests that businesses may need to review their recruitment policies.

If people are the key to an organisation’s success, motivating and engaging staff should be a top priority. Studies repeatedly show that companies which engage employees increase profits and customer satisfaction, and enjoy higher growth amongst other benefits. Yet it is a feat that very few achieve.

According to a Gallup poll, only one in four workers is actively engaged at work. Sixty per cent lack motivation and are unlikely to make any unnecessary effort, while a further 16 per cent are actively disengaged – unhappy, unproductive and liable to infect others with their negativity.

The picture is even worse in most other parts of the world. Australia and New Zealand’s engagement level of 24 per cent is beaten only by the US with 29 per cent. In Western Europe the level of engagement is just 14 per cent and in East Asia, six per cent.

UQ Business School’s Professor Charmine Härtel, an expert in human resource management and organisational change, says the low level of engagement is ‘alarming’.

“Engaged employees are committed to their organisation and involved in their work. They are constantly thinking, how can I do this more efficiently? How can I advance the organisation’s goals? We want people who buy into the organisation’s goals and are rowing in the same direction,” she says.

“However we are living in a time when organisational change is more the norm than the exception. People become fatigued. We need to manage change to compete in a dynamic business environment and we need to support the workforce through it.

“What is worrying is that research shows that often the middle managers themselves don’t buy into it, and if they’re not engaged, you can forget about change succeeding. “

So how can organisations keep their staff, in particular their middle managers, engaged? According to Professor Härtel, creating a positive work environment and supportive organisational culture are key, but it is also important that the employee’s values align with those of the company.

Her research in conjunction with the Australian Institute of Management’s Dr Malcolm Johnson has resulted in some important lessons about how companies can use their values to increase engagement levels.

“The individual has to think that what is important to them personally is important to the organisation,” she says. “They have to be able to see it is a win-win relationship – they are helping the company and at the same time the company is helping them to fulfill what’s important in their life.

“By contrast where there are actively disengaged people, our research suggests that there is a mismatch between their values and those of the organisation. They don’t like what the company says and will work against it.”

      1. Communicate your values
The first lesson is that businesses need to make it clear what their values are. “Organisations are often not very good at communicating their values or have a set of values that they don’t really live,” adds Professor Härtel.

“If you are not communicating your values, often people can’t see what their own values are. People don’t always recognise their own values without something to reflect them.

“In their search to be more competitive, organisations are not doing enough to make clear what their values are and discover what’s important to their employees.”

      2. Discover your employees’ values
Don’t assume that employees share your values. Professor Härtel recommends that companies should consult them and find out, though treat anything that is said with some caution. Just like companies, people often pay lip service to values that they are not fully committed to. One way to check is to see where they expend their energy. They may profess to be family oriented but spend a large amount of time playing sport.

In one consultancy project with a ‘fly-in fly-out’ mining company, employees were interviewed to find out what was important to them and how the company could keep them engaged. “What was discovered was that it wasn’t money that would motivate them,” she says.

“They wanted to have more time and more contact with their families. The company organised family days as a way to show they recognised what was important to their people.”

In another project, Professor Härtel and her colleagues worked with a public sector organisation undergoing restructuring. They assumed that as public sector workers, their employees would view job security and public service at the top of their priorities and they would be applying for roles elsewhere. However, research showed that what really mattered to the employees was leisure time – they were interested in physical activities, access to gyms and the opportunity to cycle to work.

      3. Select people with the same values
Companies do need to strike the right balance between recognising employees’ values and their own. Where employees have completely different values to the organisation itself, Professor Härtel recommends the company should ensure its values are fit for purpose, and if so, then review its selection process.

“It’s hard for a public sector organisation to encourage individuals to be more public service minded if that’s not high on their list of priorities. Ultimately it needs to select people with these values in the first place,” she says.

“Often when companies select staff, they worry more about their skills or qualifications without stopping to consider values. They need to ask, what is the purpose of the organisation and where are we going in the future? Then choose people who pursue the same goal.

“One idea is to choose people with aspirations to something that the organisation might be able to provide. For example, if you are a childcare provider, you can offer childcare services.

“People should have values that align with the organisation’s purpose and where it needs to go. Their values do not have to be exactly the same, but they certainly should not be conflicting. If you can’t deliver on the values that are really important to people, you can’t expect to fully engage them.”

Last updated:
27 February 2019