We have almost reach comedic levels of posts on employee engagement, satisfaction, happiness and recognition. I am pretty confident I could bet you a year’s salary that you can’t go two days without seeing at least 5 posts on the secrets to employee engagement and at least one of them will be to simply “recognize” employees. In fact, to really cement the utter uselessness of most of the content on engagement there was recently an article on USA Today called … I kid you not… wait for it… “The key to happiness at work is free snacks.” That’s right. All this talk about meaning, mastery and autonomy can’t hold a candle to some free Jalapeno Cheetos (which by the way are totally delicious!) and Mountain Dew. And to really make the buzzword bingo bonus round payoff, the article brings it home with the fact that snacks are more important to that now quickly aging demo – Millennials. (FTR – the older end of the Millennial group is now about 35… not kids anymore… sorry.)

chester cheetah

The Oldies But Goodies

When I work with companies on engagement I always start with the basics. No sense bringing in the fancy, top of the line engagement into the mix until you get the basics right.

The basics are those psychological levers that all humans react and respond to. If you can understand what trips your employees switches you have a much better chance of creating the appropriate work environment without all the “new-agey” engagement ideas suggested by the most recent company-sponsored pseudo-research study. Below are 8 ideas you can use to increase engagement and satisfaction at work without the calories. For a more complete list check out 50 psychological factors that affect your happiness at this article on the Power of Positivity web site.

Some of the more directly relatable levers in my book are:

  1. Even the illusion of progress is motivating. That’s right. Showing progress in a task or activity actually increases motivation. Take the time to communicate progress with your team. Don’t wait until the team or individuals complete a task. Engage during the process and recognize the movement. That’s the thing that keeps them engaged.
  2. Our “strong tie” group size is 150 people. Dunbar’s number is alive and well. Once we get past about 150 people the ability to connect and be effective diminishes. Think about this when designing work teams and departments.
  3. You want more choices and information than you can process. It’s called the paradox of choice and more information is not always better. Sometimes it is simply more. In fact there is a real chance decisions won’t get made in the presence of too much information. When you want people to make faster decisions – don’t throw the kitchen sink at them.
  4. When you remember a past event, you are remembering the last time you remembered it. Can you say “engagement survey?” That’s right. Your memory is a memory of a memory. Keep that in mind when interpreting your employee engagement survey responses. Sometimes what we think we remember is simply the retelling of the original memory and we are always wont to embellish. Nothing is absolute.
  5. Smart people underestimate themselves, and ignorant people think they’re brilliant. When someone tells you they may not be an expert – they probably are. When someone tells you they are a guru – trust the other guy.
  6. People who view TV crime shows consistently overestimate the frequency of crime in the real world. In the business world this is the same as repeating the negative over and over. The more we hear about something the more we think it is true. It’s called the availability heuristic. Counter with your own positive news. Fight fire with fire. Get your positive message out there.
  7. Volunteers are significantly more satisfied with their lives than non-volunteers. When was the last time you asked your team to help out – either within the company or without? Can a team member be a mentor? Can you schedule your next team outing with a charity organization? Can you make sure your team has time available for volunteering?
  8. Your brain does more creative work when you’re tired. Schedule brainstorming in the afternoon – let the workday deplete some of your team’s resources so they are more open to new ideas and their brains are less likely to put up a fight.

There you go. Eight ideas to try before you bring out the snacks and foosball tables.

Really folks. If you want engagement at work treat people they way you want to be treated. It really is that simple.

It IS easy being cheezy.