Interview with employee engagement expert: Margy Bresslour


Margy Bresslour, an engagement expert tells Tap My Back team how employee expression of appreciation impacts companies.

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Margy Bresslour is the founder and CEO of Moving Messages, a company dedicated to encouraging the expression of appreciation, acknowledgment, recognition, and gratitude to people who make a difference to you and/or contribute to the success of your company or organization. Employee satisfaction is one of the top 3 priorities. She took the time to answer a few questions for Tap My Back that we are very glad to share with all of you.

TMB: Do you remember when you started to get passionate about employee engagement and leadership? Was there a defining moment?

Margy: I spent years working as an Executive Director of mentoring programs for youth at risk. At the organizations where I worked, we placed a focus on acknowledgements. Many of our youth came from dysfunctional homes where they rarely, if ever, heard a positive word about themselves. I could clearly see the difference it made to our young people when they heard an acknowledgment about their strengths and characteristics, many of which they hadn’t been aware of before. They began to grow and blossom. Shortly after leaving my job and starting my new business, I began to read about appreciation in the workplace. I found it disheartening to learn from the U.S. Department of Labor research that the number one reason people leave their jobs is because they don’t feel appreciated or valued for who they are or what they bring into the workplace. It doesn’t take much time or effort to let colleagues know you appreciate them and it makes a huge difference in how they feel about themselves and how engaged and productive they are at work.

TMB: Some people say engagement is not that important as it treats employees only as mere tools for productivity and not as human beings. What do you have to say about that?

Margy: Engaged employees are critical to the success of any organization. Engagement strategies won’t work if they are designed with the thought that “I’ll do this (recognize you) in exchange for an expectation of something (more productivity) from you.” The ulterior motive and the lack of sincerity will be obvious. In fact, those methods very likely will worsen the problem of disengaged employees. It’s not hard for those you deal with to pick up on your lack of sincerity or authenticity. If instead, you sincerely focus on the whole person and know that all humans want to be appreciated, valued, heard, and believe that they belong, then, you most likely will have a positive impact on engagement in your workplace. Individuals are engaged when the culture is human-centered. A human-centered culture encompasses a mission/vision that employees believe in, jobs that are challenging and fulfilling, and sincere acknowledgments for contributions made. In such a culture, individuals feel cared for, experience growth opportunities, and develop trust. Open communication leads to a culture of integrity and an environment in which employees are fully committed and engaged. Cultures based on human-centered models are a win-win for both the individual and the organization.

TMB: What are the best ways to measure engagement inside a team or company?

Margy: A well-crafted survey might get you the big picture and point out issues. However, the best way to interpret, and understand the results, and determine best strategies for making improvements is by speaking individually to employees. We interpret results through our frame of reference. Talking with individuals will help give voice and understanding to responses. You can learn more from conversations because you can dig deeper and ask tailored questions.

TMB: A study says that 64% of all employees who quit their jobs didn’t feel recognized for their work. Should we worry?

Margy: Turnover costs are expensive – advertising, interviewing, training, making up for lost work,increasing workloads, etc. It’s not just the dollar amount of replacing a good employee, it’s the toll the loss takes on the person who left and those left behind. When an employee decides to leave their workplace because they don’t feel valued, those emotions take a toll on that person who no doubt has begun to question their value. It’s a painful process. Also, those left behind often experience a loss – of that person, of the knowledge that person takes with them, of the camaraderie, of the tasks that person performed that may now be on their plate. The loss of a valuable employee takes a toll on the entire organization in terms of productivity, engagement, and the bottom line.

TMB: Can you give me five simple ideas any leader of any company can use to motivate his/her staff?

Margy: 1. Take time to get to know your individual staff members. Who are they? What do they enjoy doing outside of work? What makes them feel fulfilled? What motivates them to do their best? 2. Listen to their ideas and take steps to incorporate their feedback. 3. Acknowledge them for qualities and characteristics they bring into the workplace. Appreciate their good work. 4. Inquire about their longer term career goals. Help them grow and learn new skills. Help them develop a plan to reach those goals. 5. Provide them with the tools, skills, coaching they need to do their best work. Take an interest. Remove barriers to their success. 6. Make sure they are aware of the contribution the organization is making (mission and vision). Align the job they are doing to the mission. Help them to see the difference they are making through their contribution.

TMB: Traditional annual performance reviews vs continuous feedback? Who wins your heart?

Margy: Continuous feedback and traditional annual performance review are both important, but for different reasons. When done well, they should complement each other. It’s helpful to receive regular and frequent feedback so you know you’re on the right path and can make corrections if not. Performance evaluations at the annual review shouldn’t be a surprise if feedback is given throughout the year. Annual performance reviews are essential, too. If done well, annual performance reviews can provide the employee with wider feedback from multiple sources. Annual performance reviews can also help evaluate how each employee is doing towards achieving existing goals and can be used to establish new goals for the next year. The annual review can also help identify a career path for the future.

TMB: Millennials, do they have a great impact on how managers see employee engagement?

Margy: I have a hard time grouping a generation of people. I suspect there’s huge variation within a generation of people.

TMB: Is public recognition really so much better than money when it comes to staff motivation? And in the long run?

Margy: Each of us has a particular way that we best receive the impact of recognition, depending on how we are motivated. Some people love public recognition; others have a tremendous dislike of public displays of appreciation. For those people, public recognition does not resonate and the intention of the recognition misses the mark. Some people enjoy gifts or monetary gains or incentives. For those people the money is a sign of endorsement and a motivator. Some people are motivated by being given more challenges which is an expression of trust. All human beings want to know that they matter, that what they do and who they are matters. It’s important to understand what motivates each person if you want recognition to resonate.

Our many thanks to Margy for her time and awesome insights. If you want to know more about her, here are some links: @MovingMsgs

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