Employee Experience

Pride: The Unheralded Driver of Engagement

5 Mins read

Over the last few decades, countless efforts, costing millions of dollars, have been implemented to better understand the employee experience, primarily for the purpose of improving customer experience.  Ever since the concept of the ‘service-profit chain’ was introduced, companies have believed that satisfied employees are critical to creating satisfied, and more importantly, loyal customers. 

Never has this been truer than since the economy pivoted from one that was based in manufacturing to one that is primarily fueled by the service sector. The workforce has moved from being button pushers to now owning the intellectual capital needed to make businesses successful

Despite these honorable intentions toward creating goodwill and motivating employees, we currently find ourselves pre-occupied with ‘the Great Resignation’ and the preeminent challenge of attracting and retaining top talent.  It feels like the overall customer experience is getting worse, not better. 

Some of the customer challenges are the result of residual effects of the pandemic, but how often do we a call center representative who seems either indifferent, unwilling, or unable to resolve our problem and, thereby, shuttles us to others to whom we must re-explain our frustrations?

The Essence of Employee Engagement

Most of the existing employee engagement models appear focused on the rational evaluative aspects of the employee experience.  Employees are surveyed annually, bi-annually, or sometimes monthly, about issues like whether they understand the company mission, whether they have the tools and equipment to do their work properly, or how well they get along with their managers and co-workers.  There are variations on these themes, but essentially, employees are asked to take 10 to 15 minutes to reflect on their workforce experiences and provide thoughtful feedback.

While the value of this feedback cannot be discounted completely, arguably the most important driver to fuel engagement is usually not asked about in a survey and hides in plain sight.  It is not something that people think about, but rather something they feel—pride.  It is very easy to tell when people take pride in their work, and even easier to tell when they don’t.  People who are energized by personal pride, give extra effort to their customers, co-workers, and managers.  Similarly, people with little pride, get by on the bare minimum, and often don’t even feel particularly bad when a customer walks away disappointed.

Two Types of Pride

Recently, in a WorkProud ® study conducted with Dr. Bob Nelson, an author of over 30 books on employee motivation, we examined two types of pride:  pride in one’s work and pride in one’s company.  When we inquired about personal pride in one’s work to over 1000 full-time employees, we found people frequently related a time when they were able to successfully resolve a customer issue even though others previously were unsuccessful. 

We also heard people discuss the feeling they had when they improved someone’s life through their work.  People talked about how they found ways to accomplish something meaningful, beyond collecting a paycheck.  In our research, we correlated high personal pride in one’s work to outcomes such as job satisfaction, discretionary effort, pay satisfaction, and strong work attendance/low absenteeism.  It is likely that, if we were able to externally validate self-reported pride to customer feedback, there would have been a high correlation as well, as we all recognize how we feel when someone has truly helped us. 

‘High pride’ individuals are usually categorized by their companies as top performers.  However, the talents of top performers are portable and can be taken to new employers if they do not feel a connection to their companies.  

The second type of pride we examined was ‘company pride.’  This pertains to the belief and loyalty people have in their employers.  People who have high company pride show a great amount of ‘irrational commitment’ in that 48% of the individuals we studied in the ‘high company pride’ group strongly agreed with the statement that ‘Even if I were offered significantly more money to do the same job at a different company, I would stay with my present employer’, compared to only 2% in the ‘low company pride’ group.  People who are truly proud to work for their employers are significantly more likely to recommend both their companies as places to work, as well as endorse their products and services to others.  

A staggering statistic we found was that 71% of the group with high company pride strongly agreed that they would be very happy to spend their entire career with their present employer, compared to only 5% in the low pride group. It is not difficult to realize the monetary impact of retaining talent. 

Understanding and encouraging pride

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The study cracked the surface of the role pride plays in driving successful businesses.  While the relationship between employee pride and business success seems obvious, it is surprising that so little research has been done on the topic.  Some might argue that holding pride in one’s work is a function of one’s upbringing and inherent approach to life. 

This may be true but pride in one’s work can be encouraged by doing the following:

1. Link employees to your larger mission.

Years ago, on a plane ride, I sat across the aisle from a consultant who worked with the Sara Lee Corporation. At the time, the Hanes brand was also part of the larger corporate holdings. She explained that every day, workers at Sara Lee walked into the building and saw a sign that said, ‘We feed and clothe the world.’ Imagine how much more inspiring that idea is compared to ‘We sell pastries and socks.’ Customers of Coca-Cola do not just buy a bottle of a carbonated beverage, but rather, buy ‘a moment of refreshment.’

2. Connect employees to customers.

Millions of customer experience surveys go out each year, but it often feels as though they fall into a black hole. Contemporary customer feedback systems offer the opportunity for managers and customers to interact with one another. Make sure you include an opportunity to solicit feedback from customers regarding the impact specific employees made toward improving their experience and pass that feedback directly to the employees.

3. Recognize Results.

Individual recognition for performance represents status and status leads to feelings of importance. Recognition represents external validation and reinforces the internal pride an employee experiences.   

Company culture is a critical component to facilitating company pride.  Employees with high company pride found strong alignment between their own values and those belonging to their companies.  Of course, seeing leaders act consistently with these values is critical.  A strong consumer brand helps facilitate pride, but only if the consumer brand and employer brands are consistent.  Just as individual recognition sparks individual pride, corporate recognition as a ‘best place to work’ reinforces company pride.  

Read more on recognition:
How to Praise Someone Professionally
Funny Employee Awards

The exploration of pride as a key driver of motivation, performance, and engagement is just beginning.  It is the opinion of my colleagues and I that this may be the missing ‘secret sauce’ companies are seeking. The impact of pride on job performance, retention, advocacy, and customer experience seems obvious.  Our next steps are to dig deeper into finding the ways to bring out the best in worker pride and create companies with which individuals will want to identify.  We believe the pride concept represents the next big topic of discussion as we take employee and customer experience to the next level. 

Further Reading 

Behavioral Observation Scale
Employee Engagement Committee

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About author
Dr. Rick Garlick has over two decades of employee experience research, beginning with his work at The Gallup Organization in the mid-90s. He has held leadership positions at Maritz CX, and J.D. Power prior to starting his own private consultancy. In each of these positions, he focused on various aspects of the employee experience from talent selection to motivational strategies to understanding service culture dynamics that either facilitate or inhibit employee performance. He currently serves as Chief Research Officer for the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) where he oversees key employee motivation research initiatives that advance the science of the industry. Along with a vast amount of experience in the travel, hospitality and leisure space, Dr. Garlick has also worked in media and entertainment, financial services, utilities, manufacturing, retail, association, and not-for-profit research. Prior to entering the private sector, he taught courses in research methods, marketing, and persuasive communication at Michigan State University and DePaul University in Chicago. A frequent conference speaker, Dr. Garlick has published numerous articles in industry and academic journals. He has also appeared on such national media outlets as MSNBC, CNBC, CNNfn, Bloomberg Television, and National Public Radio, as well as being quoted in a number of national publications. Dr. Garlick has served as chair of the Research Committee for the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association (HSMAI) Foundation Board and Meeting Professionals International (MPI). Dr. Garlick received a Ph.D. in communication studies from Michigan State University.
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