“Slow fix” thinking is better for employee engagement
Wouldn’t it be good to be thanked by your employees for providing a program which they appreciated, enjoyed and benefited from?
So many programs don’t meet these objectives – so why are they provided? And what can be done to ensure that a program you provide does in fact get through to your people?
A classic scenario
Mary (not her real name) works in the People Operations department of a medium sized company. Last year, she was asked by her manager to come up with a program to provide information to a group of the company’s employees who were experiencing some financial challenges – several of these employees had asked for pay advances or loans from the company to help them with short term financial difficulties.
Mary formed the view that they needed some help with the basic Money Management. So, she approached an organisation which provided a range of “employee services”. She asked them to deliver a one-hour workshop to the group of employees.
She talked with the business development manager who said that they had a standard one-hour presentation on the subject. The price was agreed, and a date was set for the workshop.
The employees were advised of the workshop through the company intranet and via a series of posters which were displayed around the work site.
On the day of the presentation, out of a group of 20 people who had been targeted, only five turned up.
On the day of the presentation, Mary was rather embarrassed to find that, out of a group of 20 people who had been targeted, only five turned up. But the presenter said “oh, this happens all the time” – and the workshop went ahead.
The five who attended the workshop said they enjoyed it. However, in the following month, three of the five who had attended the workshop approached the company again for various forms of financial assistance.
What had changed? In truth, not much. Mary had delivered the program she had been asked to deliver. The presenter had been paid for delivering the workshop. But, the real objective of the program had not been achieved.
What went wrong?
If we review the events which make up this scenario, we can identify a number of key mistakes which Mary, her company and the employee services organisation made.
- Mary’s manager was responding to a “fire” and was asking Mary to “put out the fire”.
- Neither Mary nor her manager really knew why the fire had started in the first place.
- Mary “formed the view” – it was her idea of “why the fire had started” – but she didn’t check whether her view was actually correct.
- Her “view” about a one-hour workshop was probably partly budget driven. But, for her, it was a relatively simple way out. She knew an organisation who provided the service she thought was appropriate.
- The fact that this organisation had a “standard presentation” made it easier again.
- No one considered whether employees might not attend the workshop because of an implied “stigma”.
- The workshop was held in isolation. There was no follow up support offered to the employees.
- There was no suggestion that the employees should attend the workshop with their partners.
What could have been done differently?
Clearly, the culture of Mary’s company was pivotal to the way in which this scenario played out. However, it is glib to say that the company’s culture should be changed – such a change is pretty fundamental – and not achieved overnight.
Rather, we have suggested here a few important (and relatively simple) things which could have produced a much better outcome for Mary, for her company and, most importantly, for the employees.
employees won’t always “open up” to their colleagues and bosses. There is embarrassment and the fear that they will be stigmatised.
One of the difficulties which companies have in understanding the issues which their employees are facing is that of confidentiality. Mary could simply have asked the employees what their issues were. However, in our experience, employees won’t always “open up” to their colleagues and bosses. There is embarrassment and the fear that they will be stigmatised.
So, perhaps Mary could have asked the independent organisation to help with a survey of the employees – to try and understand what the real cause of the fire was. It is likely that this would have been an additional cost – but, almost certainly, it would have provided valuable information which would have led to the program being more effective.
With this information Mary and the presenter could then have met to discuss how the workshop could be tailored to meet the employees’ concerns. And this could extend to such issues as when the workshop is held, whether employees are paid to attend, whether food is provided (!) and whether partners are invited.
The other real key to program effectiveness is to give employees access to individual one-on-one help if they require it. So, the workshop becomes part of the program rather than the entire program.
General awareness and personalised help
There is a strong body of evidence which suggests that employees who are in good financial health are more engaged in their workplace and more productive – not to mention being happier people!
So, if as an employer you want to support your people, what can you do?
We distinguish between “general awareness” and “personalised help”. General awareness covers a wide range of things which can be done to improve individuals’ awareness of the issues. And the workshop described in the above scenario would be an example of that. But, it could also include resources such as videos, websites, apps, books, TV programs, podcasts, etc. All of these attempt, in one way or another, to answer the question “what does it mean?” In other words, they play an educational role, either formally, or informally.
But for many individuals, the question they really want an answer to is this one – “What does it mean – TO ME?” Some individuals can figure this out for themselves. But, many can’t. And it is here where the real power of a financial wellbeing program can be unleashed.
ImPower believes strongly that, to be effective, and to engage employees in the program in such a way that they change their way of thinking, the following needs to happen:
- The employer needs a clear understanding of the needs of the employee
- The employer converts this understanding into a set of clearly articulated objectives
- The program which is developed is a carefully crafted blend of “general awareness” and “personalised help”
- Adequate opportunity is provided to build trust between the program provider and the employee
- There is a clearly stated “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) for the employee
- The program is ongoing and not a “one-off”
- The program is built into a wider wellbeing program which is based on a strategic business principle such as “we support the wellbeing of our people”
If you would like to talk to an ImPower Financial Wellbeing Specialist about how a financial wellbeing program can work to your advantage, contact us through the Contact page in the website.
Financial Impowerment Specialist
Tony Walker is the co-owner of ImPower Limited. He is an Authorised Financial Adviser and Certified Financial Planner (CFPCM) and his disclosure statement is available free of charge on request by emailing Tony at or by calling him on 021 656 223.