Danni Rush: Creating a diverse employee engagement scheme for a diverse workforce: the risks and rewards

Our workplaces are becoming increasingly diverse. For example, back in the 1970s, women represented 40 per cent of the workforce but now make up almost half (48 per cent). However, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF), there is still plenty more to do. As recently as 2015, half of FTSE 100 companies had all-white boards and, according to The Pipeline Report’s Women Count 2018, gender diversity across senior roles in the FTSE 350 has seen no progress in the past three years.

For employers, it’s important to continue supporting diversity. Companies that do so are seen as a more desirable employers, with 67 per cent of job seekers agreeing a diverse workforce is important when considering job offers. They also outperform competitors financially – research by McKinsey found that those companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity were more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median, whereas companies in the bottom quartile were statistically less likely to achieve above-average returns. The benefits are clear from a staff recruitment and retention perspective, as well as in terms of a company’s bottom line, but addressing the issue of diversity isn’t always viewed as a business priority.

The modern workplace has become more inclusive on the whole, encompassing not just different genders and races, but also including employees with other important characteristics such as age, religion, physical disability, sexual orientation and more. This makes achieving a diverse workforce and keeping them engaged a potentially greater challenge for today’s businesses, with several different types of employee to bring on board and keep happy and motivated. However, with such great benefits to be had, it’s a challenge worth taking on.

The challenges

Creating an employee engagement scheme that is consistent, fair and varied is a challenge. It involves careful consideration of everyone’s needs and sensitivities and preparation of a range of rewards and incentives that incorporate these. Failing that, the risks can be great and range in severity.

If an employee feels significantly marginalised or under-appreciated, they may consider their position at the company. Additionally, there is the possibility that if other employees see a colleague being ostracised by their employer, they might also begin to question the values of their company and whether they want to have a place in it. Negative experiences or perceptions of a business can easily spread too, through word of mouth or online reviews on platforms such as Glassdoor. Ultimately, this could mean prospective employees are put off as well, further compounding the potential staff losses.

Worse still, discriminatory employee engagement schemes could be considered a legal matter if directly and knowingly tied to a protected characteristic, such as inviting a wheelchair-using employee out to a team dinner at a restaurant without wheelchair access, or bringing a pregnant employee to an explicitly alcohol-based activity without alcohol-free alternatives available. Even if your reasons for choosing a certain reward might sound appealing, you have to respect everyone’s cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds, their physical ability, interests and personal opinions.

When it comes to staff incentives and recognitions, it may seem that the stakes are as high as the rewards. However, these needn’t be a concern if you can create a system that works for all.

The solutions

Start by getting the basics right. Putting external reward before internal recognition leads only to a short-lived boost in employee motivation. It’s easy to just throw money at a problem, but this shouldn’t be the only solution. Don’t just give people ‘stuff’, thank them as well. A thank you is universally accepted and appreciated – regardless of your background – and, best of all, it comes for free!

Of course, gifts are appreciated too and are possible for all businesses whatever their size. Even small businesses with a relatively low budget for staff rewards can enjoy the benefits they bring. Although a cliché, when it’s a question of keeping staff motivated, it really is the thought that counts. It’s important, however, that businesses don’t lose sight of standard work practices by using benefits or work perks to cover up shortfalls elsewhere in terms of staff holidays, regular payslips or a minimum wage.

The key to a good employee engagement scheme is in creating one that is inclusive, memorable and bespoke to a business and its staff. That’s where cash bonuses fall down. Although universally appreciated, they’re often frittered away on day-to-day purchases and quickly forgotten, and don’t inspire strong positive sentiment between the employee and employer – particularly if applied at the same level across the company without recognition of an individual’s achievements.

Employees want more than money from their work, they want to feel valued too. Instead of cash, employers can show they care with rewards that resonate in a meaningful way. Employees lives extend far beyond the office, and your incentive scheme should reflect that. Consider the age, cultural background, personal interests, location and different life stages of each, and offer something that demonstrates this deeper level of understanding for best results. Quality time spent with colleagues or at home with friends and family is invaluable, and better yet for a business, if they themselves can provide those memorable moments in a way that generates positive emotion towards the employer.

The benefits

Getting your employee engagement scheme right is crucial to keeping your best talent as well as attracting new staff, with 68 per cent of organisations reporting a direct, positive impact on retention. On top of that, the loss of an employee can cost up to twice the departing employee’s annual salary in terms of training and time.

In the long run, it could save your company money and contribute to staff wellbeing making them motivated to work better and harder. Happiness increases workplace productivity among 77 per cent of employees and that happiness is infectious: happy employees mean happy customers.

So next time you consider your employee engagement scheme, think about your staff as individuals and offer something that will truly resonate with them on a personal basis and create positive, lasting memories. Doing so could have far reaching benefits for employee and customer happiness, as well business growth and profitability.