Calling employees together to the cafeteria on the last Friday of every month for celebrating birthdays of that month has been an age old employee engagement practice. It’s followed religiously and the youngest team member of HR departments keeps wracking her brain to come up with innovative ways to engage the employees, month after month.
But despite her best efforts, the attendance keeps diminishing. The threat of having the CEO or functional heads being present there drives people to come and not the fun-laughter-chill out time that the HR wants it to be.
After the initial euphoria, the employees just start asking the menu and then decide whether they want to attend or not basis the flavour of the cake or the novelty of the items, one of the HR Head had once remarked.
So, what is it about these “engagement games” that the people for whom its designed want nothing to do with it and still as HR we continue looking at new activities that can be done to involve everyone for those 60 minutes.
What’s going wrong?
It’s a potpourri: Do you know what a potpourri is? It’s a mixture of dried petals & spices placed in a bowl to perfume a room. Read again. Read again and focus on the words dried, perfume a room.
Your engagement activities, covering a group, aimed at providing a channel of networking, fun, entertainment and relaxed atmosphere for employees is primarily aimed at focusing some laughter. Sometimes forced laughter. As HR, you think of options of how you can increase participation; you make a cross functional team, in an attempt to increase ways of cross-functional collaboration; you make the respective functional teams responsible for the activity of that month, assuming at least then it won’t be considered as an HR enforcement. But it all fails.
Because, it is a potpourri approach you have in mind. You are focusing on the perfume of that room, hence the socially active, gregarious, good-humoured employees are your easiest bet to chair such cross functional meetings. Whereas getting people engaged, month after month, is far more deeper and hence at the risk of sounding poetic, I’d say, you need to focus on the flowers so that their natural colours brighten the room, and not their dried smell!
What can work?
The signals are out there in front of you, you just need to catch them. Why is it that monthly town hall meetings or even team meetings have house full, but not your birthday bash? Don’t say because the functional manager/business head chairs them and not HR.
Look at the well-researched Gallup pyramid for employee engagement. Where do you think you can place your monthly birthday activities? You cannot.
Hence, the first thing you need to do is, take out the notion from your mind that playing these monthly games would help you in engaging your employees. It won’t because it can’t.
Has any of your exiting employees ever said that they are leaving because he lost the inter team antakshari competition?
Should you stop doing them?
No, you shouldn’t. Keep it simple, keep it only as an open communication forum, which is not as formal as a townhall meeting. That’s it.
Some of the organizations who do a good job at these monthly get-together, use this forum to introduce new joiners of the month, farewell messages for the exiting employees and to give a personalized birthday card/message for the birthday employees. The employees gather, chat around, catch up on pending work, see who has joined them, eat nice food and get back to work.
No forced games, no forced laughter.
Playing inter-intra departmental games/activities help. But not in these regular forums, where you are forcing employees to behave “completely engaged” and having utmost fun! Instead, plant these games/activities in a way that your employees look forward to participating in them. In our next post on this topic, we’ll share some of the best practices of doing impactful engagement activities.