Worried about Employee Engagement? Foster some friendships.

Ask your employees to engage with people, not concepts.

Employee engagement is constantly cited as an underperforming metric that has real impact on productivity. It’s on the minds of HR, internal communications, the CEO… and anyone who cares about how efficiently the company outputs work, retains talent, and innovates. It’s become a bugaboo: what methods actually work in improving engagement? Is ‘company culture’ just an ethereal, unquantifiable je nais sais quoi that is simply born, not made? 

I think the answer is derailed by the way we ask the question. We focus too much on how employees engage with “work” instead of paying attention to the greatest contributor to company identity: coworkers. Instead of begging staff to engage with a faceless entity, a logo, a concept, why don’t we focus on getting them to engage with each other?

Friends matter

Study after study shows that having more friends at work matters to engagement. This isn’t a revelation; caring more about the people you work with makes you care about helping them in their goals and furthering your shared mission. So when we talk about engagement, why don’t we focus on camaraderie? It’s a daunting task. One does not simply walk into an office and command friendship; it has to be organically developed. 

What we can do is provide maximum, efficient opportunities for this organic development. Office parties and diversions are nice, but the opportunity to expand and deepen relationships isn’t quite there. We need something structured, yet relaxed. Personal, yet efficient.

Creating opportunities for more connections

One easy, fun way to do this with an employee app is to leverage a ‘get to know a colleague’ mechanism. Our customer Sodexo used this as an icebreaker at a national leadership summit. The function is simple: a form asks you to look up a colleague, fill out a few questions about them, take a selfie together, and post a card to the stream with the results. It’s so simple, but the results are powerful: among 100 attendees, the function had been used over 200 times in the first day of the summit. This is another creative use that unleashes the power of an employee app.

Think of what this accomplishes:

  1. It creates the opportunity for organic camaraderie by removing the obstacle of introduction,
  2. It exposes the icebreaker to more staff reading the stream, who may now engage their colleague based on shared interests,
  3. It gets people looking at the source for company content, gaining impressions for your internal communications team,
  4. It forces a more personal conversation without intruding on employees’ privacy or exposing personal data to an external source, and associates commonalities between the colleagues with the company.

At Sitrion we used this feature before Halloween, so we made our form Halloween-themed and asked things like ‘what are you dressing up as for Halloween?’ that question alone, even with the answer of ‘nothing, I hate costumes,’ was a great icebreaker into a deeper conversation. For a problem as big as employee engagement, you have to start simple. It won’t change overnight, but little victories will add up and start building that winning culture you’re looking for. It just takes a little creative thinking on how to use an employee app - something we try and encourage in our mobile success framework.

Encouraging camaraderie – and by extension, employee engagement – can be as simple as giving people a way to get to know each other better. You can’t mechanically foster lasting relationships, but you can provide your employees with the maximum of opportunities for them while still focusing on the company mission. 

James Casagrande


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