Employee Engagement Takes More Than a Ping Pong Table

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Often when I what a company is doing to engage employees, someone inevitably shares something like, “On Friday afternoons we can take an ice cream cart around!” “We’ll have a monthly potluck!” “We allow employees to bring their dog to work.” “We have a ping pong table in the conference room.”

While these things have a place and purpose, organizations are not going to achieve employee engagement with a ping pong table and ice cream socials alone.

Too often, leaders look at companies like Zappos and Google, see the amazing benefits they offer employees, and think, this is the key to employee engagement! The truth is that these benefits are only the tip of the iceberg in intentionally building an engaged culture. There is far more happening behind the scenes (or below the waterline). The incentives are the starting point – not the end game.

Why it Matters – and Three Mistakes Companies Make

According to a Harvard study of more than 200 companies, having a strong organizational culture increases net income by 756% over 11 years. Why the strong financial performance? Employees who are engaged are more likely to have increased productivity and better innovation and problem solving. They’re also more likely to stay longer, leading to decreased costs in recruiting and training new employees.

I find that when organizations are struggling to create a culture of engagement, they are struggling in one (or more) of the following areas outlined by Daniel Coyle in the book The Culture Code.

Building a Sense of Psychological Safety Through Belonging – this is where most companies start… and stop. Building community is where activities like ice cream breaks, ping-pong tables and team outings to escape rooms come into play. Creating a sense of belonging is the first step to building an engaged culture, and these initiatives must be in service to achieving shared results.

Willingness to be Vulnerable –  Leaders don’t have to be perfect, and neither do employees. Demonstrate vulnerability by accepting that you don’t know everything and asking for help. And allow your team to do the same.

Shared Purpose – This is what is at the heart of engagement. Everyone needs to understand the organization’s purpose and how their role in the company impacts that purpose. To do this, create stories that demonstrate how people are helping the company achieve its purpose, and recognize and celebrate employees who.

What Employees Really Need

The bottom line: incentives can help to build community, which is the first step in employee engagement. However, if you want truly engaged employees you need to create an environment where employees fee safe to take risks, ask for help and be themselves. They need to feel they are contributing to the overall purpose. You also must give your team input into their work and help them grow and develop.

If you’d like to learn more about employee engagement and organizational culture, I’ll be speaking about this topic at  HRSouthwest in Fort Worth, TX October 27 – 20. If you’ll be there, I’d love for you to join my session!

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