In 1995, author Gary Chapman published The Five Love Languages to help couples improve their relationships by showing them how their communication needs differ. For example, love might be felt by one person through acts of service, while another person may prefer words of affirmation. Chapman’s five love languages are: gift giving, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and touch. The key to a high-functioning relationship, according to Chapman, is learning how to speak your partner’s “love language.”[i] Over the years, people have applied Chapman’s concepts to improve interpersonal communication in other settings such as the workplace.[ii]
While, Chapman’s theories are a great way to improve how we show appreciation to our coworkers and direct reports, they may not provide everything employees need to become fully engaged. That’s because great work and a great workplace culture (i.e., employee experience) depend on more than appreciation, they require attention to other key social dynamics.
At DecisionWise, we suggest our ENGAGEMENT MAGIC® ingredients: Meaning, Autonomy, Growth, Impact, and Connection, as a good starting point. But these ingredients aren’t necessarily the only ingredients. Each organization is unique. Therefore, your organization might need to focus on other social variables, such as trust, that your leaders need to understand and manage as well. Understanding your employee’s core employment-based expectations and needs is the heart of designing the right employee experience!
As suggested, an organization’s employee experience (EX) is that organization’s purpose-built culture that supports and strengthens its workforce in order to produce winning results. Instead of letting a random culture take root organically, the organization’s leaders take the time to design an employee experience that maximizes employee engagement. They understand that design-based culture = employee experience.
Employee Engagement, on the other hand, is an emotional state where employees feel passionate, energetic, and committed to their work. When employees are engaged, they invest more of themselves in their work. They choose to give discretionary effort. Employee Engagement exists when it is cultivated through a solid EX – an EX that promotes and manages the MAGIC ingredients discussed above (Meaning, Autonomy, Growth, Impact, and Connection), among other elements.
Here is a word of warning. Building the right employee experience is not about republishing your corporate values, such as “We Disdain the Status Quo.” It’s not about defining a mission statement or corporate purpose. It’s much more than aspirational statements! It’s asking what activities, conversations, leadership styles, and opportunities must be part of an employee’s daily, weekly, monthly, and annual interactions with the organization and their front-line leader (our research shows that front-line managers are the real face of the organization).
For example, if you want employees to “Disdain the Status Quo,” how should your employees do that? How can their voice be heard? Is it safe to speak up in your current culture? Do you reward innovation appropriately? Does your compensation structure properly delineate between employees that challenge the status quo and those that don’t? Are managers given the autonomy to promote employees who are challengers? Do you allow for, or even promote, self-directed teams?
We know that designing the right EX can be daunting, especially at first. For this reason, we suggest you start with the MAGIC ingredients. Ask your front-line managers to build a plan that touches upon a MAGIC element each month (we call this a 5×12 plan). At first, it might be a team session that talks about meaning. Next month it might be a listening session for individual employees (manager can only ask questions – no suggestions allowed!)
Here is a simple manager checklist to guide a 5×12 plan:
Meaning: The work has purpose beyond itself. Hold a team brainstorming exercise over lunch to answer this question: How does our work in [insert team name] help our organization win? At this point, limit your team’s answers to one or two final suggestions so they are focused on the core aspects of this question. Share your answers up the chain of command and across other department and functions. Find a way to visualize answers in work areas by using posters, signs, cards, etc.
Autonomy: The power to shape one’s work and environment in ways that allow them to perform at their best. Hold a one-on-one conversation with each employee to explore the level of autonomy they would like to have in their work environment. Do not make any promises other than you will do what you can to listen and make changes where possible. Our experience suggests that there is always something, even if only small, incremental changes, that managers can do to improve autonomy.
Growth: Being stretched and challenged in ways that result in personal and professional progress. Ask each employee to prepare their own growth plan for the next 12 months. Review their plans with them, and then discuss ways the organization will support the plan.
Impact: Seeing positive and worthwhile results from the work one does. Find and share a story with your team that shows how your team’s work made an impact on a customer. This might require stopping by the sales team to find the right stories.
Connection: The sense of belonging to something beyond the individual. Create a recognition program and make it a part of your team’s ongoing culture. Here are some ideas to get you started: https://www.snacknation.com/blog/employee-recognition-ideas/.
As you build your 5×12 plan, you will likely find alternative ways to focus on speaking your employees’ engagement love language. As you move forward in this process, helping your front-line managers become engaging leaders, your employee experience will transform into something special, and employee engagement will thrive. In sum, your efforts will yield key benefits such as lower turnover, better productivity, more meaningful innovation, and market growth.
[ii] https://www.forbes.com/sites/dailymuse/2011/12/28/the-5-love-languages-office-edition/#7fed2ba8bad8 or consider, https://qz.com/1053563/love-languages-in-the-workplace-how-the-relationship-theory-can-help-your-office-relationships-too/, and https://medium.com/@esellberg22/incorporating-the-5-love-languages-in-the-workplace-ba0ab9eb982.