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How a Blend of Fun and Pride Helped Us Spark Workplace Engagement

No one wants to feel disconnected at work. The secret to overcoming that feeling is improved engagement and morale.

Engagement is the key to success at work. When people are interested in what they’re doing and happy with where they are, they’ll be more productive. In fact, companies with high employee engagement are 22% more profitable than those without it. That’s great news for companies that already have a positive culture centered around engagement — but what about everyone else?

About seven years ago, a survey revealed that engagement was lagging more than expected at my own company, GSM. Our leadership team immediately realized this was a problem for everyone — not just management. Instead of coming from the top and filtering down, the solution needed to come from the bottom and work its way up as the organic result of people communicating more, collaborating better, and genuinely enjoying their work.

We created a volunteer team dubbed “Pulse” to tackle the challenge of improving our employee engagement. Through some trial and error, that team eventually discovered two key elements of employee engagement: fun and pride. People want to enjoy where they work and derive meaning from what they do. That might seem obvious, but it proves to be surprisingly challenging. After all, how do you make work feel less serious and more important at the same time?

A Process of Trial and Error

The earliest iteration of the Pulse team understood the mandate to improve employee engagement and the importance of fun and pride in the workplace. Much less certain was how to push things in those directions.

Initially, the group was very structured and quite formal. We referred to our events as “initiatives,” followed a charter, set up formal lines of communication, and clearly stated our goals. Those were necessary steps, but the Pulse team ultimately didn’t have the intended effect on engagement until it learned to be less rigid.

In later forms, the team supplied fun solutions to problems that everyone in the company could solve together with a sense of pride. For instance, when we were struggling to meet a deadline, the Pulse team created a Super Bowl-themed competition (the “fun”) to rally everyone to boost their productivity; we also capped it off with a celebration when we met our goal (the “pride”).

As the company has grown in size, expanded into additional locations, hired remote employees, and moved into new markets, the Pulse team has evolved many times — and it will continue to do so.

Working Toward a More Positive Company Culture

Even as our efforts have evolved, we return to many of the same strategies to keep employees engaged:

  • Improve Morale. Every company knows morale matters, but how many have a team tasked with promoting it? The Pulse team became this for us by measuring the mood of employees and working to improve it. Higher morale translates directly into lower workplace stress, increased job satisfaction, and better relationships between managers and teams, so it deserves to be a cornerstone of any engagement effort.
  • Encourage Philanthropy. Charitable giving makes people feel good because it releases dopamine and endorphins. It also helps people feel like what they’re doing is valuable. The Pulse team leads our company’s philanthropic efforts, but we rely on all of our employees to tell us what organizations to support and how, so everyone feels like a part of the process.
  • Promote Unity. Unity takes more than proximity. The Pulse team enables unity within our company by keeping people grounded and focused on our core values. The team also lightens the mood during the workday by planning breaks and activities. And when people take “micro-breaks” to socialize, their mood improves along with their performance. Most of all, the Pulse team actively ensures that everyone feels included, informed, and engaged.

In both obvious and unexpected ways, business success almost always traces back to happy and engaged employees. That’s precisely why we created an internal team focused solely on engagement — and why I encourage others to do the same.

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