Building Employee Enrichment with Recognition (Part III)

Adapted from Employee Enrichment: A New Business Imperative for Creating Better Business and Better Lives, by Jerry Klein, Senior Solution Design Specialist, Maritz Loyalty & Motivation

How can a firm create outcomes that are enriching so that their people are energized, passionate, creative and self-actualized? How can the firm unlock the individual’s social, creative and collaborative powers to help create the “upward spirals” that transform individuals and communities?

As we have previously indicated, before an individual embarks on a path of personal growth and development, they need both the permission and encouragement from one’s direct supervisor, who in turn needs the sponsorship of upper management and a positive workplace culture. Employee Enrichment requires caring, personal leadership; a culture that puts people first; and positive reinforcement of new behaviors.

Managers and leaders must make an authentic personal connection that is “people-first” and not paternalistic or manipulative. Enrichment begins with a supervisor who makes a personal connection, who asks people what’s important to them, and then challenges the individual to pursue new goals. Individual leadership that is caring and nurturing yet challenging, that nudges people out of comfort zones and familiar thought patterns, then reinforces new behaviors, is a necessary condition for building “better lives.”

Positive leadership is a necessary condition for enriching experiences in the workplace. Writing for the Maritz Institute, MaryBeth McEuen cites the critical role of leadership in facilitating positive social interactions: “The work of developing individual leadership is to develop self-actualizing human beings who will serve as the cornerstone for a new form of leadership in which growth-producing social interactions are the norm.”21

Enrichment requires that organizations create a set of conditions that allow an individual to feel socially connected, emotionally engaged and empowered to develop new skills, both within and outside the workplace. Enrichment requires a new paradigm for leadership that is “embedded in social interaction, not hierarchical authority.”22

Positive Reinforcement

Employee Enrichment has the potential to create positive emotions and energy that can lift up individuals and groups. To maintain the positive momentum of deepening human value connections, creative curiosity, personal development and giving back, managers should utilize positive reinforcement to strengthen individual development activities, innovation, collaboration and other transformational activities. Employee Enrichment happens in a climate of ongoing positive reinforcement that is rooted in personal, caring leadership and a people-first culture dedicated to growth. Learning new skills, thinking differently and changing behavior does not happen without positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement helps to maintain focus on activities that are integral to Enrichment.

Positive reinforcement can be achieved either through a formal reward system or through personal, informal acknowledgement by managers of individual contributions. In either case, Employee Enrichment becomes its own reward. The ability to attend a conference, take a course, or learn a language may be rewarding in and of itself. Research from the Hay Group suggests that the mix of rewards for performance is changing: differentiated rewards programs now offer “clear career paths, global mobility and targeted development.”23 Positive reinforcement of one’s achievements by a manager is a powerful tool to reinforce caring leadership and to nurture positive emotions.

Impacts and Outcomes

What evidence do we have that Employee Enrichment is not only more effective at engaging employees than the traditional top-down approach, but that Enrichment is worth pursuing without any specific linkage to engagement or other metrics of employee productivity?

Google has connected happy, well-rounded employees to the bottom line. Yun and Mulhern suggest a similar correlation: “Implicit, but not dominant, is the expected positive outcome that enriched employees have on the performance of the organization.”24 While “better business” is a probable outcome of a people-first strategy, “better lives” through Enrichment is a valid objective of a firm’s people strategy.

Our key assumption is that, treated as a means to an end, Enrichment is a more effective way to reach the goal of engaged employees, and is a worth-while end in itself. Towers Watson suggest that “employee engagement rises when people experience a combination of effective and caring leadership, appealing development opportunities, interesting work, and fulfilling tangible and intangible rewards.”25 By creating a reciprocal path between companies and employees, it’s likely that “better lives” is a path to “better business” that is much deeper than the traditional top-down approaches to employee engagement.

It’s important that Employee Enrichment be treated not just as a means to the end of employee engagement and higher productivity. Enrichment needs to be an authentic, people-first strategy. The focus of Enrichment should be on “better lives” without any short-term measures required to justify the investment. While future discussion of this topic will no doubt focus on ways to measure the return on investments in people, Employee Enrichment requires a leap of faith that “better lives” represent a legitimate focus for business.

Employee Enrichment is an exciting new horizon. The implications are new levels of personal growth, self-realization and stronger connection to workplace and other human communities. It’s a way to help people be self-actualized: creative, collaborative, innovative, and entrepreneurial. The path to Enrichment begins with leaders who foster personal responsibility and development; a people-first culture that encourages risk-taking and collaboration; and positive reinforcement for those who elect to begin the journey.


  1. “2010: Business and Leadership in the New Millennium,” The Maritz Institute
  2. “2010: Business and Leadership in the New Millennium,” The Maritz Institute
  3. The Hay Group, “The Changing Face of Reward,” 2010 pg. 4
  4. “Leadership and the Performance of People in Organizations: Enriching Employees and Connecting People,” Won-joo Yun and Frank Mulhern, Forum for People Performance Management and Measurement, November 2009, pg. 16
  5. “Turbocharging Employee Engagement,” The Power of Recognition from Managers: Part 1- The Engagement Engine, Towers Watson, April 2009