You’re wrong about what engages employees

You’re wrong about what engages employees

Last week, I was struck once again by how wrong leaders often are about what engages employees. As I was outlining a plan for culture workshops with the senior leadership team at a client organization, I described a brainstorming activity for the employees in the room to come up with ideas for making each other’s day and creating a positive work environment. Several leaders were in complete opposition to this being an activity (which speaks to lack of trust – another post altogether!), saying that they didn’t want a whole list of ideas that they couldn’t actually act on, like adding ping pong and foosball tables or having parties.

I explained that I would be there to guide the discussion and that I had not ever seen those types of ideas come up in this sort of activity in the past. After much discussion, the workshops went on.

Guess what? After 12 workshops with almost 200 employees, there was not one single idea that had anything to do with games or new equipment. In fact, the most expensive ideas were “buy a coworker coffee after a difficult day” or “arrange a potluck to give people a chance to get to know each other”. The most popular ideas:

  • Smile and greet each other in the morning
  • Say thank you when someone helps you
  • Ask about their weekend
  • Ask how they are and listen to the response
  • Bring treats for your team

When it comes to what engages employees, it really comes down to the simple things. A smile; a kind word; appreciation for work well done; showing that you care about them; encouraging relationship-building. It’s not about parties, and it’s not about foosball.