How to Engage Employees–For Free

Employers can build employee morale in countless ways. The most effective, though, are often overlooked because they’re not as glossy as others.  For my nickel, the most effective employee-engagement strategies also are the lowest cost strategies.  Training, for example, can be a low-cost (or free!) way to motivate employees at any time.  It costs nothing to take a moment to recognize a job well done.  As Ken Blanchard would call it, “One-Minute Recognition.”

The most costly employee-engagement strategies, on the other hand, can be the least effective.  Wally Block at Three Star Leadership posted about a recent N.Y. Times article that asserts the very same claim. In the article, Kelley Holland proposes that employers can’t engage employees with “team-building” activities–at least not the traditional team-building that we know.  And I certainly do agree.  Strongly.

Can we all agree that a round of the Egg-Drop Game at the annual retreat simply is not sufficient to build any kind of team?  And why not?  If it’s not obvious, the egg-drop game and it’s corporate-sponsored brother, the Wilderness Adventure, cannot build true employee engagement because they’re insincere.  Give your employees a little more credit than that, already.  image

Insincerity is a poison and it’s an obvious one.  It’s easy to spot a lame, once-annual attempt to corral the worker bees together over hamburgers and s’mores, put on a happy face, and calling it “team building.”  Your employees don’t buy it.  When they return to work on Monday, they know that there is no change on the horizon.  Everything returns to normal and no team is ever formed.

Instead of spending money on these external programs and getting no results, try something different.  Try something that costs nothing and is far more effective.  Try saying “thank you.”  Try greeting your direct reports and colleagues with a friendly, “Good morning” instead of gruffing past them into your office, closing the door behind you. 

Take a minute to appreciate the extra efforts of a team member–and let them know that you noticed.  Even if this means that you need to schedule time to be nice.  Fine, do it. 

Put it on your calendar–three times a day, in 5-minute increments–“Engage Employees.”  When the “appointment” arrives, just look up.  Catch someone doing something right–or even almost right–and tell them that you noticed.  Be sincere.  You’ll be amazed at the results.

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