image for Employee Engagement Rio Style

Employee Engagement Rio Style

Published on Thursday, 15th September 2016, contributed by en:Rich HR

Cheer up - it might never happen! There have to be worse jobs in the world, but try telling that to this Rio Olympics lifeguard. It’s the picture that has been all over social media - described as probably one of the most pointless jobs on the planet. Watching over elite swimmers who spend hours each day in the pool was never likely to test the lifeguard’s capabilities. And it looks like one of the best seats at the Olympic games wasn’t making things much better.

Contrast this to my own experiences of the previous Olympics at London 2012 - an event where I witnessed some of the most engaged people I have ever come across. 

The London Olympics will be remembered for many great sporting moments but ask spectators like myself and we’ll tell you it was something even bigger. It was the Games Makers - the volunteers who made the whole event so special and so much fun. I was impressed by their enthusiasm, energy, positivity and desire to make it such a success.

I remember chatting to one volunteer who was working a twelve hour shift and didn’t even get to see any of the actual events (unlike our Lifeguard). I asked her why she was doing it and her reply was “I want to be part of something”. This for me is the key element to engaging people. To feel a personal sense of belonging and purpose, a sense of being a part of something special - to feel that their role matters in the bigger picture. It’s what I call the ‘Insider Feeling’ and it comes when people feel that the organisation is their own.

I was lucky enough to meet a 2012 Games Maker six months after the event and asked them what they thought were the key elements in achieving that ‘Insider Feeling’. They enthused that it was down to a thorough selection process and the training they received. The focus being on communicating a clear sense of purpose and how this aligned to their individual roles and teamwork - all based on a clear set of simple values.

Ultimately, engagement comes from purpose. It’s not about money - as the London Games Makers demonstrated and it’s not even about having an exciting role. One of the best demonstrations of great engagement comes from someone who had a role arguably far less interesting than the Rio lifeguard. It is the story of the NASA janitor who, although his job involved sweeping the floor, felt that he was helping to put a man on the moon - and he did.

So, let’s look again at the Rio lifeguard.  The problem here, at least based on the picture, seems to be a obvious lack of the ‘Insider Feeling’ that not even a ringside seat at the Olympic games can lift - and they are not alone. Disengagement is a problem facing many organisations.  Indeed, recent research from Gallup revealed that only 13% of the world’s employees working for an organisation are engaged in their work. See The Worldwide Employee Engagement Crisis for more details.

So what are the actions that can help turn this around and create a feeling of personal belonging in a role? There is no easy answer nor a magic bullet but here are some pointers for organisations to follow - learnt during my time in HR and employee engagement.

  • Create a sense of purpose and direction
  • Emphasise how roles align to that purpose
  • Give people autonomy in their roles
  • Involve employees in making decisions
  • Encourage employees to apply their own judgement in solving problems
  • Allow employees to make mistakes so they can learn
  • Communicate on a regular basis how the business is doing
  • Ask for feedback on a regular basis on how the company can operate better
  • Reward and recognise those that clearly demonstrate the ‘Insider Feeling’

What do you think? Where have you seen great examples of the ‘Insider Feeling’?  I’d love to hear about them.

Richard Roberts is a freelance HR Consultant helping organisations create engaged, inspired and productive teams with a positive, can do, values based culture. More details at en:Rich HR.