So, your organisation is sustainable, eco-friendly, gives back to the community and appears to be a corporate saint. However, appearances can be deceiving. In many of these organisations, the focus on feel-good messaging and prosocial activity has come at the expense of other areas, such as employees' care, values, and wellbeing of employees.
As a result, rather than team members feeling proud, motivated, and engaged by these actions that contribute to the greater good, studies show this isn't always the case. In fact, employees can feel that these messages are sometimes just for favourable publicity. While in the background, employees are losing respect for the organisation and leadership, demotivated by the social causes they are supposed to support and gradually disengaging.
There is a place for organisations to do good work that meets their corporate and community objectives, and we have seen increased business outcomes as a result. However, feel-good messaging can be a significant demotivator without the right balance.
Here we share the top 5 ways that "feel-good" messaging demotivates employees.
Demotivator #1 - Giving back to the community while your people stand on the sideline
Many leaders and employers say that their people are their greatest asset. Yet, while most genuinely mean it, some fail to show it. In fact, 79% of people who quit their job cite a lack of appreciation, while 77% would agree to work harder if they received more recognition.
When employers hand out millions of dollars in grants to disadvantaged communities and don't deliver on the wellbeing needs of their people and their families, there is a potential disconnect that can cause employees to feel undervalued – especially if those employees are the ones working hard to actually make those grants a possibility.
They say, "charity begins at home", so the tip is to make sure that there is a balance between the support you provide employees and the support that is extended elsewhere.
Studies show that the level of care you offer your people and the team pays actual dividends – as their engagement rises, so does organisational performance. Further, motivated individuals tend to continuously look for ways to improve productivity and help their overloaded colleagues, which results in efficiency and a teamwork culture that can only enhance your business.
Demotivator #2 - Insincere prosocial messaging
Pretending you only exist for the greater good and aren't interested in profits (when you clearly are) will make your organisation seem disingenuous and insincere, which is a big demotivator for employees. The same can be said for an organisation that overdoes prosocial messaging as they embed it in all aspects of their business.
On the other hand, genuine prosocial messaging can positively impact employee engagement and motivation. According to Harvard Business Review, employees need to perceive it to be true for feel-good messaging to work. Since prosocial messaging reinforces a company's good intentions, is motivating, and culture enhancing. When used in the right places and the right amount of prosocial messaging can genuinely make your employees your greatest ambassadors. The secret is balance.
You can be a profit-generating, socially responsible business. So standard, business as usual, and financial messaging should remain as transparent, professional, and informative as it has always been – there is no need for change.
Demotivator #3 - Supporting causes that have no meaning for employees
According to Carrie Rich, The Global Good Fund, goodwill and philanthropy produce the best results and make the most considerable impact when employees are emotionally engaged, have dedicated their time, and invested their financial resources.
It may seem obvious but causes that are relevant to your organisational purpose, your employees and are sincere and authentic will have the most significant influence on your employee's engagement. To get it right, you need to support relevant causes and find ways for employees to feel emotionally connected.
To identify relevant causes, you can think about your business's impact on the broader community and the environment, your supply chains, and those you serve. For example, suppose your organisation sold baby food. In that case, you may consider supporting the communities responsible for the ingredients in your products, the impact your packaging may have on the environment when produced on mass and causes that support baby health.
Finding ways to connect employees and bring the partnership to life is one of the most critical parts of the equation. Volunteer days and opportunities, tours of partner organisations, and updates on how the organisation's support has created real impact create an emotional connection to employees, bringing meaning and purpose to their work.
Demotivator #4 - Repeating a mantra that doesn't reflect the real focus of your business: your customers
Sometimes, in the hope they might become more appealing to their customers, organisations focus on prosocial messages at the customer's expense. Flooding their marketing and employee messaging with eco or community initiatives may send their customers the wrong message; they are not the number one priority.
When Coles first introduced paid reusable bags into Australia, there was a significant backlash. Customers who weren't yet into the routine of bringing their own bags at checkout were forced to pay for shopping bags. After much backlash, the supermarket chain agreed to hand out reusable bags for another month.
When situations like this occur, it can be challenging for employees to manage customer expectations. It may cause awkward confrontations leading your people to feel overwhelmed and like their organisation is going against its customers.
What stands behind every successful business organisation is a happy customer and an employee whose leader and organisation have their back. When employees feel backed, supported and like they have all the tools to do their job efficiently and effectively, they are much more motivated to deliver results.
Demotivator #5 - Having politically correct, inspirational words for company values and mission statements
For many companies, core values are inspirational, beautiful-sounding buzzwords that appear on papers, posters, PowerPoint presentations, and nothing more. In many cases, they feature whatever is on-trend, featuring words like sustainability, eco-friendly, clean, socially responsible, or community-minded, to name a few.
While they may say all the right things, your employees may find them disingenuous and too wordy to remember. Professor of Marketing and Psychology Amit Kumar, "Most corporate mission statements today are too long to remember, too obvious to need stating, too clearly tailored for regulators, or too distant from day-to-day practices to guide employees meaningfully."
Your values should be honest, relevant, and applicable. Employees know what senior managers and the Board care about, which needs to be reflected in the values. If values are designed to motivate employees, they should be honest, authentic, and aligned to a company's fundamental purpose and mission statement.
Balance the care you extend to the broader community with the care you show to employees.
Support and connect your employees to causes that have meaning.
Organisations that make a profit can create more significant social impact, so having balanced financial messages does not detract from your feel-good messages.
Keep in mind that you may support the wider community, but customers are always a priority.
Make your values matter and ensure your senior leadership enacts them to ensure they flow through to the entire organisation.
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