Employee engagement is a powerful dynamic and, even though it may seem as if this subject has been over-hyped in recent years, it hasn’t. Research shows that engaged employees have less turnover, take fewer sick days, and perform better. The mission is accomplished, and the bottom line improves. So why wouldn’t we want that?
The problem has been that many companies build their employee engagement strategy on mass-produced mandatory fun. Think about it. How many times do we see leaders excitedly introduce employee contests or monthly gimmicks with the intent of bringing people together? Supervisors hope it will boost productivity. Staff roll their eyes and attend because they must. Are these approaches beneficial? It depends.
Ask yourself this question: after the party is over and the free donuts are gone, what has changed? Do your workers still seem detached and on autopilot? The answer is usually yes.
Tapping into true engagement
Engagement is much more than forced participation. It’s about getting to the core of what makes human beings tick. Ever notice that when a group of people are together and connecting at a heart and soul level there is a comfort infused with energy and passion? When we become human together, laugh together, care about each other and allow bonding to occur, we tap into true engagement.
The good news is we can have it all. Engagement, productivity, all of it! If done properly, your employees will feel inspired, and you will hit those performance targets you’ve been longing for. How? Tap into your “funny bone” and have the confidence to laugh at yourself and create a culture of joy. Send the message that it’s okay to have fun at work. Then watch the energy and passion grow.
The benefits of the “funny bone”
Take for example Lizet O’Campo, Political Director of People for the American Way. She was an instant internet sensation because, through a series of technical glitches during a Zoom meeting, she accidentally turned herself into a potato. She struggled during the meeting to fix the problem all the while appearing on screen to her staff as a confused and serious potato. Lizet finally gave in and conducted the rest of her meeting as, well, a potato. Her staff was delighted and admired her sense of humility and self-deprecation.
Laughter has the added benefit of improving health. A landmark study by researchers at Loma Linda and Stanford University found that watching episodes of Laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Costello improved cortisol levels, which help the body fight infection. And laughter is a full-body workout that burns calories and flexes any number of muscles.
But one doesn’t have to be a potato leader or watch old shows on Hulu to create the space for humor and the engagement benefits that follow. By embracing a few key tenets, you can easily provide a safe space where humor is appropriate, not offensive, and engagement reigns.
1. Self-check thyself.
Leaders who desire employee engagement are obliged to walk the talk. To do this, they must look inward, recognize their own human needs, and discover what brings them joy. Then they are better able to create a space where employees can also find happiness. They inspire and build a loyal band of employees who will follow in their footsteps. Be the spark that ignites the joy. This is not something you can fake. Employees know it when you’re simply along for the ride.
2. Be courageous.
It’s not easy to change. We tend to rely on our comfort levels. Courage today is about letting go, taking a chance, and being real. Be confident and proud of your strengths but don’t be afraid to poke a little fun at your discomfort with numbers or your tendency to be a little too serious. It unleashes the human being inside.
3. Embrace humility.
Humble people are much more fun to hang out with. Modesty has the innate power to level the playing field. When we work for an unassuming leader, we feel like we can bring our whole self to work. When leaders know they’re not perfect, they allow others to be imperfect. We feel safe and accepted. As a result, we’re more creative, more inquisitive, and more productive.
4. Strengthen social awareness.
This is nothing more than the simple act of noticing, but it’s something with which we all struggle. Looming deadlines and work pressures cause us to quickly stray into the prescribed, where we depend on formalities and not on what matters most. Take the time to pick up on social cues and get to know your employees as people, not simply resources who happen to be human.
Companies with engaged employees are workplaces of passion, fun, and family. Their leaders take the time to recognize their peoples’ human needs and they tap into the joy that laughter creates. The workforce these leaders nurture is one where the staff gives their discretionary time and energy. They see their managers as approachable, kind, and normal. They care about the organization’s success because their leaders care about them.
So, if you want employee engagement, let down your guard and LOL.
This post was co-authored by Patrick Malone, who also co-authored with Zina their new book: Leading with Love and Laughter: Letting Go and Getting Real at Work.