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Employee Engagement: The Art of Motivation

by Rob Scott

A happy employee is a productive employee, so business owners might not want to assume all they need is a paycheck.

Long gone are the days when a simple paycheck and an “attaboy” were enough to keep an employee happy and motivated.

Indeed, being a mindless member of a collective and performing rote tasks day in and day out might be enough for worker bees and ants, but people crave—nay, need—camaraderie and a sense of purpose in their workplace, explains Jeff Backal, CEO of Team Builders Plus, a Marlton-based firm that provides companies with team-building and development programs aimed at creating positive, productive working environments. Backal rattles off a list of methods companies employ to keep their workforces content, from something as simple as a trip to a Phillies game, to one of Team Builders’ most popular programs, “Wheels for the World,” in which teams of employees engage in fun, team-building challenges to earn bike parts.

The employees use the parts to build bikes for underprivileged kids. “But what they don’t know is, at the end of the program, the kids rush in and get the bikes. … At the end, there’s usually not a dry eye in the place,” Backal says. “It goes a long way with motivating employees—the fact that they know their employer is helping the community and putting them through things where they’re getting to bond with their co-workers.”

It’s sort of self-evident that, as Backal says, “happy employees are productive employees”—have you seen Office Space?—but there’s more to it than that.

“There are so many work environments where the culture of that environment was having such a negative impact on people,” says Backal, who explains that a positive work culture minimizes turnover—and from a purely bottom-line point of view, that’s critical.

“Team-building is a lot less expensive than the turnover from a negative work environment.”

The stuff you can’t put a price tag on
Lisa Warech, director of human resources at The Protocall Group, says the staffing world is “a very high-burnout industry,” yet Protocall boasts a very low rate of turnover because employee engagement is so entrenched in the company’s culture.

Each year, the company focuses on a different aspect of the ever-important work-life balance of its staff. This year, it was employee health (because, as Warech explains, “a well employee is a happy, engaged employee”). The Cherry Hill-based company implemented a wellness program that involved, among other things, promoting healthy eating—including removing fatty snacks from the office—and handing out pedometers for an office-wide competition in which the winners get their names entered for a $200 gift card drawing.

“It’s fun. People have come to my office to thank me for creating the plan,” Warech says.

Protocall also holds big employee lunches once a month and maintains a casual dress code all summer.

“Silly things like that people love,” says Warech. “You need to do something other than handing them a paycheck. In our company, our employees are our family.”

While team building and development are all well and good, there’s also something to be said for having fun for the sake of having fun.

When Anthony Mongeluzo started Marlton-based Pro Computer Service in 2000 at the age of 20, it was just him and a handful of other twenty-somethings who would regularly get together for video game parties and nights out in the city, hitting up the bars, Dave & Busters, etc.

“We had a lot of fun. It still continues now, even though we’re old, beat-up men in our 30s,” Mongeluzo says. “I always say in the office here, we spend more time together than we spend with our families. You have to have all of that other stuff in place because money’s one thing, and it’s important. But at the end of the day ... as you develop relationships, it’s not just about a paycheck.”

Even though Mongeluzo refers to some of it as “fluff stuff”—the golf outing, the Philadelphia Soul party, the client who challenged his company to a bowling match, just to name a few—there’s no denying its importance, even if you can’t always quantify it.

“It’s about creating a common goal and showing people you care,” he says. “There’s no way to fake that.”

All that said, the money helps, of course. But rather than just hand his employees a paycheck every couple weeks, Mongeluzo offers additional perks, like the “money high-five”—“if someone did something good, give them a little bonus”—an online suggestion box that rewards good ideas with gift cards, and bonuses for staff members who bring in new clients.

“So you know if you’re helping the company grow ... you’re helping yourself,” he explains.

As one of South Jersey’s largest employers, Subaru of America also uses a variety of incentives to maintain a happy, productive team. Director of Corporate Communications Michael McHale says the company provides a wealth of benefits: company car programs, in-office gym facilities, paid time off to tend to the company’s on-site garden—from which Subaru donates thousands of pounds of food each year to local food banks—and maternity leave for adoptive parents, which has led to it being recognized as one of the most adoption-friendly auto companies by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.

Not to mention the annual coat drive competition, employee picnics, holiday parties and summer events, McHale says.

Does it work? Though Subaru doesn’t measure employee satisfaction on a regular basis, McHale says retention is “the clearest measure” of how a company is doing on that front, and with a less than 5 percent turnover in its 500-member workforce, “we’re doing very well.”

McHale has more stats to prove his point: Since 2008, Subaru of America has recorded four record sales years and five years of growth, the only U.S. carmaker with such an achievement. And the company has doubled its market share in the same period to a new high of 2.25 percent.

“It’s a very inclusive place to work,” he says. “A salary can make you unhappy. But it can’t make you happy.”

Staying connected
You could argue that all these company retreats, picnics and perks are unnecessary. Just give employees a regular paycheck and insurance. If they don’t like it, in an economy that’s still limping along, there’ll be plenty of people eager to take their place.

But it’s hard to dispute the tangible (and intangible) benefits of having a contented, motivated workforce—and the disadvantages associated with a miserable one. A recent survey, performed by Harris Interactive on behalf of Everest College, showed 83 percent of Americans are stressed about work—a 10 percent jump from last year. Then there’s the numerous studies that illustrate the toll job-related stress can have on physical health: heart attacks, diabetes, accelerated aging, etc.

If there’s a common theme among all the talk of team building and bonding and work-life balance, it’s the need to create a sense of community in the workplace. After all, we spend roughly a third (and probably more) of our day working. Shouldn’t we like the people we spend all that time with?

It’s a notion even someone who makes a living through technology—which more and more seems to keep us physically apart, rather than bringing us together—can understand.

Says Mongeluzo, “I’m probably crazy for saying this because I’m a CEO of a technology company, but it’s all about breathing the same air as someone, sharing the room, the personal contact.”

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 3, Issue 8 (August, 2013).
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