More Bling = More Engagement? Uh, No.

My exercise of choice is running. To keep in the groove, I will sign up for 3-5 races this year. I don’t fret about time, I just need to have something to finish on a regular basis to keep me out there plodding along. Race events are generally fun, but I don’t hang around too long.

Medals from some of my runs in 2012

Crossing the finish line of a five or ten kilometer race, someone might greet you with a bottle of water, or you can head over to some food table where you can find bananas or bagels or maybe something better. But if you run the longer races – fifteen k, half marathon or marathon – then you earn a finisher’s medal. A recognition that you toughed it out for the required distance.  The three medals pictured in this post were earned last year. Three races? Nope. Did I run 26.2? Well, yes, 13.1 in March and 13.1 in October. Two races with the same sponsor, who added the third medal for those who completed both races. Did that entice me to run the second race? No. I ran it because it was in a part of town I hadn’t run before, and at the time of year I felt I would be ready to run another half-marathon.

Over at Fistful Of Talent, Paul Hebert wrote last week about getting engagement backward. That employees have caught on and are now waiting for the next inducement to perform better. His implication is that employees feign non-engagement in order to get the company to think of a new add-on to make their lives better. “I’m not engaged, what are you going to do about it.”

I would have run the races, both of them, even if there were no finisher medals. I run them for my health and as part of my personal motivation for accomplishment. I know there are children’s hospitals and others who will gladly let me donate these medals (which I am about to do) and they use them to award young patients for their courage.

Paul’s got it right, at least for me. At work, I’ll gladly accept more benefits. But if the work sucks, I won’t be more engaged, and probably not happier. And when the eventual cost-cutting happens you’ll be taking away something I thought I was entitled to. “When’s the next engagement survey? I may have to take my answers down a notch.” Will I walk away and find a new employer? Maybe, but if the sparkly bling was keeping me there, I was probably not doing the best job, not growing, and not likely engaged in making the business better. So the bling is engaging the wrong people.

If you hire people to do work, then you might think about that message. You should be hiring them to create results, create improvement, not just to do work. And if you aren’t already rewarding those that make a difference to your business, a finishing medal isn’t going to cut it.

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