By Clement Christensen
March 29, 2013
If you could switch jobs with anyone in your organization for a day, who would it be and why? I recently posed this question to a colleague and without a moment’s pause, he immediately responded that he would switch places with our beloved common room hostess. He joked he would love to be paid to brew coffee and make small talk, but on a more serious note, expressed jealousy of her capacity to build relationships with members of many different divisions in the company.
My spontaneous question spawned an electrifying conversation in the office. One individual wanted to spend a week working with our fellows program, mentoring young professionals, while another wanted to be editor-at-large for a week, with time and freedom to explore a variety of topics of interest. Their excitement at even just a hypothetical situation, such as an office job swap, underlined that there are many creative, small things managers can do to improve engagement without having to launch a full-scale engagement initiative.
Rather than throw numbers on engagement trends at you, we thought we’d bring you four fun, outside-the-box ways to improve engagement in your office. It’s Friday after all! Some are bizarre, some surprising and some might just give you a more highly engaged workforce.
1) Job Swap
A job swap has employees switch duties for a day, or week in more ambitious offices. It not only allows employees to explore new elements of the organization, but also helps facilitate greater communication and understanding of the challenges each position faces. You’ll be surprised by what people choose, and learn more about your employees’ interests. The momentary change of pace and break from routine will likely be welcomed by participants as well.
This idea is perhaps the most ambitious; after all, business still needs to be accomplished. To facilitate such a swap, have employees spend a short time, no more than half an hour, explaining what needs to be accomplished in that day. But heed the words of General Patton, "Don't tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results." Not only will this activity engage your workforce, but you may just find a new, improved way of achieving the mission.
2) DJ Day
There are numerous studies showing the positive effects of listening to music while working, and headphones and earbuds are now nearly as essential to a productive workday as a computer mouse. But why not cut out the isolation created by headphones but still keep the music, just for a day or half day? Rather, have employees take turns playing music for the office, or allow employees to send in song requests. Many of us work in shared office spaces, and are all listening to music simultaneously anyway.
This activity is great not only because it livens up the office space, but also helps create a more communal and laid back office culture. I’ve had personal experience with this activity in several offices, all to rave reviews. Employees get to share a little about their own music tastes, which helps build relationships and create a positive culture, two important drivers behind employee engagement. Appointing a DJ or using a social DJ site such as turntable.fm are good options to facilitate the logistics of shared music.
3) No Shoes in the Office
We promise the smell isn’t that bad! This is a personal favorite of Government Executive’s Director of Research and Analysis and Excellence in Government Executive Editor, Bryan Klopack. The effectiveness of this idea lies in its simplicity. Work routines can become just that, routine. Changing one small bit of a routine, however, can be as unsettling as reworking the whole routine (think the uncanny valley effect for routines). A small change such as taking our shoes off in the office can throw our minds out of their routine as well, opening them up to new innovative thoughts and perspectives. Allowing employees to take off their shoes in appropriate circumstances can also create a more relaxed atmosphere. Sometimes the smallest changes lead to the biggest ideas.
Read the post we wrote this summer about how declaring opposite day can supercharge your office culture.
4) Informational Interviews
Have you ever wondered what it is that a colleague of yours does? Mark Micheli, Editor of Excellence in Government, has often wondered aloud what our Talent and Culture Advisor’s responsibilities include. He’s not quite sure what that position entails but he’s pretty certain it’s a fascinating one. It’s for this reason he’s such a big fan of informational interviews. Without burdening himself or anyone else too greatly, he gets the opportunity to learn about other roles within an organization and build new relationships.
Informational interviews are also helpful for new hires, giving them an opportunity to learn about the organization at a rapid pace from many angles. Managers can easily encourage interviews by either explicitly expressing support or even creating a simple system of rotating interviews with time set aside for employees to learn a little bit about how coworkers they may not interact with on a daily basis help advance the organization’s mission.
Fostering relationships, broadening horizons, and creating a positive, fun office culture are some simple ways that managers can improve engagement without massive initiatives.
We’ve shared some of the ways Government Executive tries to engage its employees, do you have any unique practices you use to engage yours? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments or in Government Executive’s agency engagement survey. Over 20,000 managers have taken the survey, but we’d like to hear from more!
Click here to take GovExec’s five-minute survey on employee engagement.
Image via Darren Baker/Shutterstock.com
By Clement Christensen
March 29, 2013