Employee Enrichment: An Approach to Leadership and Management that Serves Employees

By Frank Mulhern and Deepti Saxena, Northwestern University - January 2011

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Introduction

The ongoing economic malaise places a great deal of stress on employees. Organizations, already struggling to cope with the economy, find themselves under additional pressure to counteract the insecurity and economic difficulties that employees face.  While there has been a long history of management literature that addresses the ways organizations add value to the lives of employees, there has never been a greater need for making that a priority. In this paper we set forth the idea of employee enrichment – a genuine attempt to enhance the lives of employees beyond the normal compensation of wages and benefits.  For several years there has been growing emphasis on places of employment that nurture employees, care about their interests more wholesomely and support their both personal and professional aspects of employee lives. Companies such as Google, Microsoft, Wells Fargo, Deloitte, SAS, the Mayo Clinic, and Cisco are just a few names frequently praised for their excellent treatment of employees. A common theme that can be seen across these companies is the level of loyalty and passion exuded by their employees, indicating something special is done by these companies for their employees. A recently published paper on leadership published by The Forum: Business Results Through People (The Forum) set forth the idea that a key aspect of leadership is the degree to which organizations genuinely concern themselves with taking care of employees. That paper coined the phrase employee enrichment and defined it as follows:

Employee enrichment is a strategic approach that genuinely emphasizes the quality of people’s lives. It addresses work and non-work life factors and attempts to enhance people’s lives on the expectation that the better a person’s well-being, the better that person performs. An enrichment approach to leadership also emphasizes the social element of work and the connectivity people have with other people inside and outside an organization.

Why Employee Enrichment?

Given the past and current focus on employee satisfaction and employee engagement, one might ask why it is necessary to emphasize a new concept of employee enrichment.Employee enrichment can be contrasted withemployee satisfaction and employee engagement quite directly. Employee satisfaction is a psychological construct that depicts a level of contentment derived from the relationship between expectations and experiences. Satisfaction has long been criticized as being a weak concept for managerial purposes. The word satisfaction implies being “merely adequate,” as opposed to stronger representations of contentment such as delight or happiness. Over the past fewyears, employee engagement has grown in popularity as a substitute for satisfaction, leading some companies to identify it as their single most important employee initiative. Engagement connotes caring and passion with respect to how an employee feels towards an employer, and is clearly a stronger concept that satisfaction. However, amajor shortcoming in the way management regards employee satisfaction and engagement is in conceiving them as levers to drive the performance of employees, and hence, performance ofthe organization overall. In this sense, satisfaction and engagement are not advocated in the interest of the employee, but in the interest of the employer. One might refer to this as a “corporate narcissism” – the sense that an organization’s interest and concern with an employee is entirely a function of the needs of the organization.  In other words, employee engagement is advanced as a way to get more out of workers andtherefore, is not truly about the quality of the employee’s work experience in ways other than those that directly contribute to organizational performance. The concept of employee enrichment departs from satisfaction and engagement by genuinely being a people-first approach. Companies should enrich employees’lives because it is the responsible thing to do, just as providing quality products and services are. It is also true, that employee performance should improve when employees are enriched.  One could argue that employee enrichment leads to engagement to the benefit of the organization, and certainly if there were no long-term benefit to the organization it would be difficult to justify enrichment.  But just as organizations institute proactive customer service policies with the belief they will gain in loyalty and repeat business in the long run, framing enrichment as a management practice “means” to a performance “end” would subvert the whole idea of enrichment, and is not our primary focus. Employee enrichment positions an organization as an advocate of the employee in contrast to what is connoted by the term “management” – a word that implies handling or manipulating people to do something that may be against their natural proclivities.

In literal terms, enrich means to add nutrients beyond what was originally present. Enriching employees implies ways that make an employee’s life more satisfying, meaningful and complete. Organizations that care about long-term productivity and relationship with their employees have many opportunities to conduct the types of practices that contribute to the quality of employees’ lives.

In what follows, we establish a series of hierarchical organizational characteristics and practices that constitute employee enrichment. Prior to articulating the elements of employee enrichment, we discuss how employee enrichment can only take place in organizations in which the culture features a high level of positive values.

An important aspect of employee enrichment is that it represents an approach to employees that partially subsumes, but extends well beyond, compensation and benefits. While some of the elements of employee engagement are specific services or perks, the distinguishing factor is that the provision of the elements stem from, and adds up to, a serious management initiative to enhance employees’ lives. Compensation and benefits are generally viewed as sacrifices organizations make in exchange for work. Work often is assumed to be undesirable therefore necessitating “bribes” to induce performance. Employee enrichment suggests that work can and should be a positive experience, and shapes the organization’s culture, structure, policies and processes to reflect this view. It also incorporates the non-work aspects of employees’ lives.

Prior to undertaking employee enrichment, employers need to ensure that they have as a foundation a good and fair work environment. If there are fundamental flaws – in the way people are compensated, their working conditions, their supervision, the expectations placed upon them, or the way they're treated - then that problems should be fixed first. Since employees are the prime subjects that need to be nurtured by the employers, if they aren’t happy about the basic atmosphere at work, then they are likely to leave jobs or remain passive about all enrichment efforts. One way to ensure this is to enable people-based conversation points or forums where dissatisfaction about something can be elicited. Doing so allows leaders to invite employees to partake in decision making and results in employees feeling more valued and respected. Conversely, a healthy social connectivity at work ensures communications that are clear, transparent and consistent for all the employees.

A Foundation for Employee Enrichment: Positive Values

We begin our approach to employee enrichment with the values that constitute an organization’s culture. We identify positive values as a necessary pretext for employee enrichment. If employees do not share the values of their organization, then attempts to enrichemployees’ lives are likely to be resisted. Examples of the kinds of positive values that facilitate employee enrichment includea sense of mission, a culture of helping, encouragement of free expression and a genuine interest in the quality of performance. In addition, positive values encompass transparency and open communications which are key factors in fostering trust.

When the values of management match with what employees consider important, a productive organizational culture exists. Steve Jobs of Apple has noted, “The only thing that makes a winning organization is management by values.” This idea of managing by values permeates many successful organizations. However, we contend that leaders should build on positive values to implement specific programs and activities that comprise employee enrichment. Importantly, organizations must not only maintain positive values, they must openly advocate them and ensure that employees and other constituents know what those values are. When employees witness the open support of positive values, they are able to integrate the organization’s values with their own.

Components of Employee Enrichment

As noted above, in contrast to employee satisfaction and employee engagement which are psychological constructs operationalized with surveys, employee enrichment should be viewed as a set of management practices intended to enhance the lives of people. Accordingly, it is important to identify what those specific practices are and how they can be implemented most effectively. We establish a framework for representing employee enrichment in Figure 1. Building upon a strong foundation of positive values, the framework moves onto more tangible management practices that contribute to employees’ lives. The four areas of employee enrichment are 1) personal life enhancements, 2) professional development, 3) social connectivity and 4) thriving.Note that the figure represents a hierarchical process (depicted by the arrow that ascends on the left side). Organizations achieve employee enrichment through stages that contribute to employees’ lives indifferent ways and culminate in a state of thriving that we discuss in a later section. A key distinction in this framework is that an organization needs to have in place certain benefits encompassed in personal life enhancements and professional development, but must then extend to higher-order forms of life contributions. That is where employee enrichment is achieved. A valuable way that enrichment is achieved through personal life enhancements is by customizing benefits and other enhancements to individual employees. Organizations have long provided benefits in what might be called a “mass marketing” approach – the same benefits, or perhaps with a few variations, to all employees. Providing enrichment through personal life enhancements means catering the benefits to individual needs.

Personal life enhancements include provisions that many companies are already providing to employees. Our contention is that the mere offering of such added benefits, those that are beyond basic compensation and benefits, are insufficient because they tend to be idiosyncratic, uncoordinated, and potentially of limited value to employees because they are not managed under the rubric of a genuine care for employees’ well-being.

Figure 1: Framework for Employee Enrichment

 

Personal Life Enhancements

Personal life enhancements are positive contributions employers provide to attract, serve and support employees. The simplest enhancements are expansions or extensions of traditional benefits that provide specific services or programs that serve the personal, nonworking, lives of employees. A driving force in the value of such enhancements is remedying the rapidly disappearing distinctions between work life and private life. Whereas long ago work was done at work and personal things were done at home, communications technologies and work-at-home patterns bring about the need to accommodate personal life needs at the workplace and work-related tasks done at home, or, given the use of mobile devices, almost anywhere. This breakdown of the distinction between work and personal time necessitates a decided emphasis on enhancing the personal lives of employees in ways that may be independent of work lives. Examples of these added contributions include a variety of health, exercise, education, childcare and related benefits. A more complete listing of examples of such personal life enhancements appears in the Appendix.

Professional Development

Our second area of employee enrichment is professional development – formal policies designed to advance career progress and other aspects that improve employee skills, performance, and earnings potential. Many companies conduct professional development programs such as lateral growth assignments, rotational placements across the corporate organizations or business units, or shadowing programs where people work as an understudy to an expert.  Professional development can work to counter natural inclinations of job insecurity people often have. It is an essential feeling that must be fulfilled, in order to create a happy employee who is loyal and passionate about the company. From the prospective of the company, these programs enable an increase in confidence and performance. As such they naturally can benefit the company in the long run, but under the rubric of employee enrichment, their first priority is improving the work, life and career development of the employees.

Professional development can also include webinars, workshops and training programs that encourage innovative thinking, thought leadership and improved workplace skills. A common, but in the current economy, somewhat fading practice is college tuition assistance.Organizations such as Cisco or Google offer their own (free) educational programs in technical fields.

An excellent example of a professional development program is the Future Leaders Apprentice professional rotation program at Deloitte. In that program, employees are nominated or selected by committee and all new hires are eligible immediately. It offers several weeks of apprentice work at various organizations or departments within the company and at the end of rotation, over three-fourths of the employees who participate in the program acquire a higher level position in the firm. Each new hire who participates in the program receives a tuition payback as additional incentive to join the company. Another great benefit given to employees is membership in national and international professional associations that provide social connections with similar professionals.

Social Connectivity

Social connectivity refers to the human need to experience an active and fulfilling social life. Research shows social relationships are often the single most pertinent aspect of happiness. Social connectivity at work promotes mutual respect and appreciation and has a powerful effect on employee performance. Despite this level of importance organizations are far more likely to offer personal life enhancements or professional career development programs that any efforts to enhance the quality of workplace social experiences. The framework in Figure 1 depicts social connectivity above the personal and professional activities because social connectivity is a higher order aspect that 1) is likely to have a greater impact of the quality of employees’ lives and is 2) significantly more difficult to implement because it cannot be achieved by merely enacting a set of programs.

Social connectivity is influenced by many workplace aspects ranging from organizational culture to physical infrastructure. With respect to the latter, the layout of offices, meeting rooms and other work place dimensions can have a powerful effect on the quality of employees’ lives. Google has designed themed zones in some offices such as mountain country, rainforests, or space stations to counter what is often considered a sterile environment full of cubicles. Their locations also feature recreational areas for activities including foosball, pool tables, volleyball courts, assorted video games, pianos, ping pong tables, yoga and dance gyms. Recreational areas facilitate ways for employees to enjoy themselves and build friendships and trusts with colleagues. Organizations can also offer social programs, such as clubs comprising of employees based upon shared interests in sports, film, wine tasting, social dancing, or investing, as examples. Social development programs build friendships across organizational units – an outcome that can be very rewarding compared to the substantial limitations that organizations inadvertently impose en employees stemming from the use of multiple locations, physical layouts that limit human interaction or cultural elements that do not facilitate the development of interpersonal relationships.

Deloitte again serves as an excellent example of a company that explicitly offers social programs to build human connectivity. Their programs include karaoke, golfing, inter-office sports, and culinary shows. Being socially connected can also be enabled through working for the same cause. Many companies offer means for employees to perform charitable work, often focusing on local communities.

The Epitome of Enrichment: Thriving at Work

A model proposed by Spreitzer et al. (2005) introduces a concept of thriving as the ultimate psychological state desired by most individuals. Spreitzer defined thriving as a psychological state of being deeply involved in something that someone cares about. Thriving is experienced as a temporary internal property of an individual, rather than a more enduring disposition that doesn’t change over a lifetime (Chaplin et al. 1988). Thriving is closely related to vitality - positive feelings of having a high level of energy (Nix et al. 1999). A final aspect that relates to thriving is learning - a sense that one is acquiring, and can apply knowledge and skills (Dweck et al. 1986 and 1988).  Thus, in a thriving state, people experience the joint sense of vitality and learning, which brings about a sense of progression in an individual’s development.

Thriving is a desirable experience because it allows people to gauge how whatever they are doing is helping them move in the positive direction that implies a sense of improvement, both in their short-term capacity and long-term adaptability to their work environment. Instead of correcting oneself by means of looking at the difference in performance metrics and feedbacks, people use their sense of thriving to gauge if and how they should take action, in the context of work, to sustain or renew their thriving. Since thriving is central to employees feeling of contentment, happiness and pride, it provides the context and means to achieve the feeling of enrichment.

Thriving and Social Connectivity

Sprietzer’s model speaks of thriving attained through social structures in the workplace. It is in settings such as social clubs or common goal-based projects, where an employee has discretion of decision-making, broad sharing of information with other colleagues in the group and where there is trust and respect among them which leads to producing resources with work that leads to enrichment. Both learning and vitality of self, multiplies through dynamic interactions with others, both within and outside the organizations. This feeds into the experience of enrichment.

A testament of how this concept works is exemplified by a story from Walt Disney Company. Disney administers a series of mandatory programs for its employees that are based upon social connectivity as a means to build great employee organizations. The events are special episodes of a program that are filmed for an onstage performance in the company’s various entertainment centers. Various employees are cast members, experienced ones are director or producer and all the technical staff required for film making is provided by Disney’s technical departments. Episodes have a goal to create an enjoyable experience. This type of event brings out the best in the employee’s character as well as exposes them to their cast members in ways that lead to good interpersonal bonds over the entire course of the shooting. At the end of each episode, the crew starts to get to know each other’s strengths and points of appreciation, and by the time the complete program is shot, there is a heightened sense of confidence, trust, friendship, fun and camaraderie among employees. This type of practice in building social connectivity is one way Disney enhances its culture.  Disney stands today as one of the most desired companies to work for.

Agentic Behavior and Professional Development

When people are active and purposeful at work (Bandura 2001), they are said to act agentically. The idea of agentic behavior represents purpose-driven behavior in the workplace. Sprietzer’s thriving model addresses the idea of three agentic behaviors that are related to thriving – task focus, exploration and heedful relating.

  • Task focus is the degree to which employee focus their behavior on meeting their assigned work, which energizes them when successful and thus reinforces vitality.
  • Exploration of techniques involves experimentation, risk taking, discovery, innovation, and it leads directly to learning, and
  • Heedful relatedness with others at work makes employee understand how their work in concert with others’ leads to the goal, and that feeds into vitality also.

Agentic behavior is fueled by two types of work contexts – the working unit and the resources produced by the work itself. As explained in the previous section, the desirable work unit creates a means to enable discretion of decision-making, sharing of information, and trust and faith in each other, thus reinforcing agentic behavior in individuals and promoting their experience of thriving. In other words, a working unit paves the way for professional advancement that contributes to the feeling of thriving.

The resources that trigger agentic behavior are produced by performing the work itself that leads to experiencing positive emotions, positive connections, and learning. The challenge for management is to instill purpose into work in situations where it does not foster itself naturally (as is often the case for nonprofits). An example from today’s communal world is the heavy usage of social media with colleagues from work for sharing experiences, opinions, feedback and appreciation. As mentioned previously, when agentic behavior is experienced by employees they experience greater trust and faith in their colleagues.

Nurturing and Personal Life Enhancement

According to Kahn (1992), there is a concept of psychological presence for an employee to be fully connected and engaged at work. It means that one’s thoughts, feelings and beliefs are fully accessible by them within the context of role performances. There are several dimensions that drive psychological presence at work – people are attentive, connected, integrated, and focused in their role performances. This collectively defines what makes employees feel alive in their current work role. People become physically involved in tasks, whether alone or with others, cognitively vigilant and empathetically connected to others in the service of work that they are doing in ways that display what they think and feel, their creativity, their beliefs, and values and their personal connections to others. It is from the stance of being fully present that organization members are able to place themselves so fully into their task performances. Thus psychological presence subsumes work motivation. Popular corporate programs such as daytime childcare, on-site gymnasiums and family care support line enhance the personal lives of employees such that they can have more focused meaningful time at work. There are countless examples of how company can care for the employees, as noted in the Appendix.

Conclusion

This paper sets forth employee enrichment as an important approach to management that is centered on improving the lives of employees in both work and non-work aspects. We advocate employee enrichment over less ambitious approaches designed to improve employee satisfaction which are often intended as a means toward improving employee performance – as defined from the perspective of management.

The determining aspects of employee enrichment are not so much the exact practices that organizations undertake to serve employees as much as the attitude that things are done for the primary purpose of enhancing the lives of employees. This stems from a people-first approach to leadership as opposed to more charismatic or mechanistic approaches. Ultimately, employee enrichment works best when programs and practices are customized to the needs of individual employees. In many ways, this is analogous to what Marketing Departments try to do when they center themselves on consumer wants and see themselves in the business of serving customers. Employee enrichment acknowledges that employees are a constituent to be served, not a means to something else. 

Appendix:  Examples of Personal Life Enhancements for Employee Enrichment

Child Daycare – Most outstanding examples are from companies like Google, Apple, Cisco etc., that have daycare which is either available free of charge or at subsidized rates. They can be customized to fit the unique needs of parents and the goals of the organization. For e.g. employers with large concentrations of employees in one place may choose to offer an on-site or near-site child care center and employers with a distributed workforce may look at a resource and referral program to assist parents in sourcing and enrolling in child care within their local communities.

Kindergarten School – There are services available for employee’s kids prior to their school years, which are at subsidized rates and one can be chosen based upon their area of residence or convenience.

Tutors for Children/Kids – Some companies like Deloitte even offer tutoring for kids which takes care of their school performance and education, while the employees are busy with work related travels, during the peak business seasons.

Emergency support for Families or Home - For unexpected situations of emergency disrupts their life, like babysitter arrangement failure or school closure or health strokes etc., companies like Wells Fargo offer an Emergency support line that can handle counseling and guidance for any kind of cases, for free. It gives immense peace of mind and saves time to search options of help in these cases. In addition, third-party vendors are provided to manage specific handling for e.g. Backup Childcare offers services when usual child-care arrangements are disrupted, or when their children are mildly ill, Employee Assistance Consulting, which provides free confidential help in resolving personal and work-related difficulties including personal, relationship and family issues, getting along with others at work, emotional concerns, alcohol, breakdown in home, or missing a flight, drug use, domestic violence, career concerns, robbery or other workplace trauma, etc.

Good Quality Free Meals – While Google is famous for its high-end food offerings in the form of gourmet choices, most good companies offer great service cafeteria for free or at subsidized rates. Again, it give one less thing to worry about, when employees are focused on going that extra mile for the business.

Physical Fitness Centers – This is a very common facility offered in most companies, since working life can cause tremendous amount of stress to employees specially with family responsibility and or nature of work. Most places even offer anytime fitness centers given to employees with special badges for entry. Alternatively employee can select fitness centers that offer body balance for over-worked and/or over-busy employees. Employees are often encouraged to use such facilities during free-time, thus showing how much the company cares for the well-being of the employee.

Recreational Sports – Facilities like basketball court, soccer field or access to golf grounds are very common benefits given to employees.

Social Clubs around Basic Interests – Larger companies offer various social networks within its organization for nurturing hobbies or interests while working, since it is difficult to find time for everything. In addition, such an arrangement enables relationship-building among the colleagues, which fosters better organizations.

Corporate Club Cards – This is a classic benefit offered by most employers and is very appreciated by employees. Some companies even extend it for use during personal vacations besides work related travels.

Tuition Assistance Programs - Offered by many fortune 500 companies, and they range from offering 100% reimbursable undergraduate or graduate tuition for all junior employees that is eligible immediately upon joining or several scholarship programs for dependent children of the employees.

Employee Discounts – Discounts at a host of merchants from car rentals, gymnasium memberships, cell phones or service, variety of insurances, performing art events, publications, car purchases, computers and related services, electronics, flowers, loans, mortgage loans, IRAs, brokerage commissions, and trust services.

Total Rewards - A new concept that is not very popular elsewhere yet, but is offered at Google, is Total Rewards. This is an innovative concept to view compensation as an investment in the human capital of a firm. This way the company would be seeking a better return on employees by looking beyond traditional reward programs (pay and benefits) and assess the importance and effectiveness of factors such as leadership, employee development, communication, and the overall work environment. Such factors can have a significant impact on employee retention and engagement but may get overlooked if the definition of total rewards is limited to monetary considerations. To deliver optimal value, a total rewards strategy must evolve in accordance with changing business and employee needs.

Commuter Service - Companies such as Nielsen, Wells Fargo, etc. offer a shuttle service to and from the local transportation points in cities where parking the car is a hassle, thus giving lasting impression on the employees. This gesture by the employer is huge in caring for its employees. Additionally, there are state tax-savings offered to frequent commuters of public transportation.

Corporate Branding - Companies like Bank of America, Citi, Apple, Nielsen etc. have emphasized on the concept of enhancing the corporate image as an employer of choice, resulting in attracting top talent into the company.  A study (Refer: by Rachel Connelly and Deborah DeGraff, Bowdoin College; Rachel Willis, University of North Carolina) found that firms offering on-site child care saved between one-half and twice the cost of what they paid to maintain the benefit, including subsidies to employees and other costs, and this amount is on top of any savings realized through reduced turnover or increased productivity.

 

References
  1. Leadership and the Performance of People in Organizations:  Enriching Employees and Connecting People, Won-joo Yun  Texas A&M University   Frank Mulhern Northwestern University (1 November 2009)
  2. A Socially Embedded Model of Thriving at Work, Gretchen Spreitzer, Kathleen Sutcliffe, Jane Dutton, Scott Sonenshein, Adam M. Grant (Organization Science Vol. 16, No. 5, September–October2005, pp.537–549 issn1047-7039eissn1526-54550516050537)
  3. To Be Fully There: Pshychological Presence At Work, William A. Kahn (Human Relations, Vol. 45, No. 4, 1992)
  4. Corporate sites of Google, Deloitte, Cisco, Wells Fargo, Freddie Mac, Microsoft