Engagement hinges on work, people, not toys

The hottest topic for most organizations this year is “Employee Engagement.” How are we keeping our employees and team members engaged and excited about their work? How do we increase team member productivity without increasing our costs?

Study after study tells us engaged employees work harder, stay longer, perform at higher levels and help build profitable organizations that people want to work for.

Every year, numerous publications post lists of top companies that everyone says they want to or love working for. I bet you can probably guess which company is at or near the top every year: Google. We’ve all seen pictures and video of the Google campus with its nap pods, pingpong tables, video games, free food from what appears to be an on-site supermarket, dog walking service, ride service, you name it service, all designed to do what? Increase team member engagement.

These places will surely top best-companies-to-work-for lists, right?

Here’s an interesting statistic for you. What is the average tenure of a Google team member? My first guess was five to seven years, so you can understand my surprise when I learned it was 18 months. So here’s a question: If Google is such an amazing place to work and everyone loves being there, then why do so many people leave so soon?

If your company was burning through people every 18 months, would you feel like you were hitting the mark on employee engagement?

The myth is that team members want to have playgrounds and smoothie bars at their workplace to be engaged. The reality is they already are engaged, just usually not on their work.

Think about it. How much time are people actively participating with some sort of social media platform? Would it be fair to say that most are focused and have an intended outcome in mind with this interaction? So clearly we are engaging in something, and psychologists and social scientists agree that the natural state of the human experience is engagement.

What that says is that we’d all prefer to be engaged rather than the opposite.

So how do we get people to do what they actually would do naturally otherwise?

Start by asking yourself the right questions.

■ Why do you come to work every day?

■ What charges you up to come in and fight the good fight?

I bet it’s not to come in and take a nap in a chair, play pingpong, or sip cappuccinos.

Think about the best days you have in the workplace for a minute and ask yourself: What did I do that day that made it feel so special?

Most will say they accomplished or created something, or felt as if they were valued or created value. Others may say they connected with someone meaningfully. Maybe you learned how to do something or mastered a skill that you never thought you could.

The first and probably most important step to creating and building team member engagement is helping your employees find meaning and purpose in what they are doing every day.

Remember, people do not work for money, they work for people. A paycheck is just part of the contract and a baseline expectation. If I feel like what I do matters, that it’s important and makes a difference (and not just to the bottom line) then it’s starts to feel less like work and more like life. That is how to create engagement.

Ask yourself this week:

■ How engaged is my team in the work we are setting out to accomplish this year?

■ What would my team members say if we asked them about the work they do?

■ Would they feel as though it mattered and made a difference?

■ How are you instilling a sense of accomplishment and creating value with your employees? Would you believe it yourself?

■ What steps am I willing to commit to this week to connect my team members with the overall mission and values of my organization? What impact will that have on my team?

Tim Furlong, managing partner at Simmons Group in Las Vegas, is a nationally recognized author and executive coach who also is a speaker and facilitator at conferences or seminars from the Simmons Group. Reach him at, or

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