In a recent interview for hubEngage, I got the chance to talk about my views on employee engagement and company culture, and how they connect to business objectives. I think many of these questions are often left unanswered when people talk about employee engagement as a shortcut to organizational growth. In the interview, I talk about the difference between a pleasant atmosphere at work and a tangible level of engagement than can be connected to employee productivity and business goals.
Here are some of the highlights:
If someone were to say to you, “Whenever someone mentions a ‘positive workplace culture,’ it’s just a code-phrase for encouraging people to walk around being annoyingly cheery at all times,” how might you respond?
I don’t think anyone can be happy all the time. And they shouldn’t have to. A positive work culture doesn’t refer to a constant feeling of joy in the office. Instead, it refers to a culture of collaboration, communication, clarity, and transparency. Clarity in what you have to do, collaboration to achieve it, and communication and transparency in management practices are all positive aspects of a workplace culture.
What are some early red flags which could indicate a worsening of employee engagement or morale?
A decline in performance or an increase in sick days are pretty obvious signs that something is wrong. It can be a sudden withdrawal from interactions at work, a lack of interest in attending meetings or contributing new ideas, or even conflicts with co-workers. There are also more subtle signs that require some effort to identify, such as a constant “bare minimum” approach to their work or an apparent presence in meetings but with superficial or calculated interventions. In every instance, it’s important to reach out to that employee and figure out what’s causing this behavior. They could be having a challenging personal time or a family crisis, in which case the support of their colleagues and manager is essential.
On a larger scale, an entire group of employees can be showing signs of disengagement when the quality of the product or service they are delivering has decreased, when customers express their dissatisfaction, or when you have a sudden spike in turnover.
Finish this sentence: “You know you’re focusing too much on company culture and not enough on actual work or the bottom line when…”
…you’re investing resources in culture initiatives without connecting them to business goals. Objectively, the purpose of a business is to make a profit. Your talent and your culture are there to support business processes that can lead to achieving business objectives. Everything you do, including company culture initiatives, should connect to your business goals.
What is your opinion on the effectiveness of gamification challenges and team-building events in order to boost employee engagement?
I think they have a very high potential to improve engagement when done correctly. These type of initiatives should be incorporated into a cohesive engagement strategy that connects to the actual work that employees are doing. A good example is Air Cargo Netherlands; they produced a game version of their logistics system called “Smartgate.” It was used to help employees understand a certain way of thinking about the job, i.e. imagining it as a link in a chain while also illustrating the consequences of their decisions without risk to the company.