May 28, 2020 | watsimp

Grand gestures or little things? What’s the best way to building employee engagement?

It was budget time and a senior leader was pushing hard with Finance for a large “team engagement” budget. He was arguing that it was going to be a demanding year and that the best way to keep the team engaged was to take them out for dinner/drinks and offsites regularly. And all this costs money, so the budget was a must.

I was early in my career and this was the first time I was sitting in on a budget discussion. I was firstly very surprised at the size of the “engagement budget” and even more intrigued that the leader believed that these activities would improve employee engagement.

A quick deep dive into the employee engagement scores and feedback for this team for the last 3 years, showed that all the “so called” engagement activities advocated by the leader had made no impact on the team engagement. Employees were deeply demotivated and attrition was high.  

It is very tempting for leaders and managers to use “grand gestures” like team outings and offsites to boost engagement. They are low hanging fruit. They show action on the part of the leader and manager and are highly visible. What managers and leaders often miss is the impact of these activities. Visibility does not equal impact!

As team members our engagement and performance are closely linked. And both are driven by the many little things that happen to us within the team and in our interactions with our managers and leaders. A word of recognition or encouragement, the opportunity to work on something that has high impact, concern for our well being, kindness in times of personal distress, respect…. And each of us wants different things. It’s these many small things that truly make us feel engaged and part of a team.

No amount of team outings and offsites can make up for a leader being disrespectful with his/her team or people not feeling recognized.  So, does this mean that team outings or offsites have no value? Actually, they are more a nice to have. They work only when combined with the little things that make the most impact. The must have is -for leaders and managers to be aware of their team’s needs and do the little things regularly.

Grand gestures rarely work. It’s always the little things, done consistently that create the magic!

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