Fun: The Secret Ingredient in Employee Engagement

Customer Engagement | Employee Satisfaction Surveys | Employee Experience

Reading time: 6 minutes

Trusted Experience Management Partners

Western cooking traditionally recognizes four major tastes: sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. The Japanese, however, add a fifth taste called unami, or savory flavor. Unami is beloved for its ability to enhance all of the other flavors of a dish. As in cooking, managers must maintain a delicate balance of key ingredients to maximize their workforce. Ingredients like salaries and benefits, feedback mechanisms, and good training are all important to strengthen Employee Engagement Management (EEM), and even bolsters your Customer Engagement. But there is usually one ingredient that is often forgotten. Just what is the unami of the business world? Fun.

Fun is the unexpected ingredient that can enhance your firm's Employee Engagement.

Many managers are probably wagging their heads right now, scoffing at the idea of focusing on employees in such hard economic times. It’s hard enough to keep customers these days--why focus on the employee? Because doing so increases Customer Engagement. As PeopleMetrics Vice President Kate Feather stated in a podcast about the link between EEM and CEM, “If customers see and feel the engagement of the [employees] they’re interacting with, they come away with a better feeling about the organization, and then they’re more inclined to come back in the future, and more inclined to recommend the organization to family and friends.” Customers notice and like engaged employees, partly because engaged employees go above and beyond the call of duty for the customer. Additionally, customers enjoy interacting with engaged employees because it’s just more fun. As Kate explains, “There’s a real connection between customer and employee behaviors, driven by how much the [sales] experience is memorable and enjoyable, either for the employee, or for the customer.”

PeopleMetrics has found a direct correlation between customer engagement and key business indicators like ROI, Revenue Growth, and Return on Assets. Furthermore, PeopleMetrics’ research indicates that the companies with the most engaged customers also have highly engaged employees.

To see how the free flow of fun impacts an organization’s operations, let’s examine one fun-loving company: Trader Joe’s. This line of grocery stores is known for its happy, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing employees. Fortune has named Trader Joe’s one of the best places to work. And as Len Lewis writes in his book, The Trader Joe’s Adventure, “Few employers--particularly in retailing--can boast of having such high levels of employee loyalty, not to mention extremely low turnover.”

The employees at Trader Joe’s have plenty to be happy about. Especially compared with workers at other grocery stores, Trader Joe’s employees make more, get better benefits and perks, and enjoy more flexible scheduling. Mr. Lewis explains, “In a world rocked by layoffs, cutbacks, corporate scandals, and labor unrest--particularly in retailing--Trader Joe’s has long adhered to the philosophy that happy employees make for happy customers. Happy customers spend more and visit the store more frequently. This attitude is rare in the retail industry at large, where employees are often seen as expendable.”

While at work, Trader Joe’s encourages employees to have fun, and customers consistently notice this lighthearted attitude. In his book, Mr. Lewis delivers evidence of this from customers and non-customers alike. He quotes regular Trader Joe’s shopper Dan Raftery, who notes, “I think it’s probably fun to work there because they don’t take themselves too seriously. It’s a very positive environment, not oppressive, stale, or negative." (Sounds like a fun place to shop, too!) Neal Stern, VP of Chicago firm McMillan/Doolitle, agrees, saying, “It’s a cool place to work--fun, informal--and they sell great stuff... It’s no coincidence that great stores to shop at are also great places to work. You can create a great marketing campaign, a billion-dollar ad campaign with glitzy flyers, but you can’t fake store morale.”

So, if you’re looking for a magical ingredient to boost your employee engagement (and your bottom line), try tossing in a little fun. Throw a staff appreciation party, open the next meeting with a silly icebreakers, or give employees the opportunity to be creative. (Trader Joe’s employees, for instance, use a system of pirate-ish bells and language to communicate in code with their peers, so it’s a lot more fun to report a “clean up on aisle five” at Trader Joe’s than it is at other grocery stores.) Finally, don’t leave your employees in the dark; include them in your investigation of how to make your workplace more fun.

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Topic: Employee Experience

Posted on 09-24-2009