12 Apr 2016 19:38 IST

Employee engagement is more than paid vacations

We all have a need to build, mess around, try, mend and improve things

“I recall my first day at my first job. I had joined a small electronics company which used to develop and manufacture electrical drives. I reached office at 9 am sharp, with my appointment letter and certificates in hand. A woman (who must have been secretary to the big boss behind a closed door) asked me to sit on a chair that was next to a huge table. One half of the table had papers and electronic boards strewn over it. Another guy was on that side, poring over a circuit diagram.

“I waited. After a while, a senior looking man came and shoved a big fat file under my nose and said, “Will talk to you later. Please go through this”. The ‘this’ had copies of several articles, circuit diagrams, test results and some graphs. The file had no label but I figured out it was about a voltage regulator. Some articles did seem interesting, but I soon, began to yawn. I was better off during lectures in college, I thought. I could at least hide behind students and doze off.

“My reverie was broken by a brief movement of air and a curt “come”. I went with the same senior looking man into his lab. He told me I had to design a voltage regulator using the phenomenon of ferro-resonance, which I hadn’t heard of earlier. He explained why we had use to that phenomenon and briefly about the principle. “You can work here,” he said, pointing to a work table that had all electronic tools and instrument and plenty of soldering rods. “Prototyping boards and components are there too. If you need, anything ask Stella,” and saying that, he vanished.

“For next two and half days, I struggled with the design and made some prototypes which either emitted smoke or did nothing. I was in a mess! The senior man came and discussed my circuits, pointing out flaws. He went on to draw a little circuit diagram, explaining to me what could be done to solve my difficulties. It took me another day to put together a working prototype.

“I moved on to other jobs and more elaborate organisations which had better working conditions. Most companies had great cafeteria, gyms and table tennis. Some companies sent me on boredom trips (read: training programmes) to exotic locations; others sent me on paid vacations — they called these getaways ‘team building programmes’.

“Some companies held town hall meetings and 360 degree appraisals; a few even had reverse appraisals. Money for these activities came from HR’s ‘employee engagement’ or training budgets. I don’t know what these guys mean by employee engagement, but I can say with a fair amount of confidence that I was never as engaged in any of my jobs as I was in my first, and that too within hours of joining it.”

Something tangible

This was Chinmay, who, as you can see, has worked in several companies. Now, even 10 years later, I could sense the excitement in his voice when he talked about his first job. He surely didn’t mind the cafeterias and getaways and other perks in bigger companies, but he missed creating something tangible. Seeing the result, and knowing that it made a difference was something he craved.

Back then, he had visited a customer site and received feedback about the stabiliser. He had a chance to improve his creation, and still recalled his struggle and the mess. His boss had said ‘good’ when he saw his working prototype and ‘good’ again when he informed him about the improvements. That was all he got in terms of ‘recognition’ or ‘reward’.

The need within us

I certainly agreed with Chinmay. No matter how much money, perks, comforts and ego trips we want, there’s in us a need to build, mess around, try, mend and improve things. We have a need to be able to tell our own stories, boast about them to our colleagues, friends, children, and spouses — the need to do better and help others. Beyond all this, we feel the need to be part of a bigger effort for larger good. Fulfilling these needs keep us engaged.


What happens in real life? Read these declarations related to people and careers (randomly selected from websites of leading employers)”

~ “A career at xxxx is an opportunity to be the best at what you do in an environment where you are valued and respected. We are committed to creating a workplace where employees are rewarded and recognised for their contribution and supported by meaningful growth opportunities. We believe the best people in the world work right here.”

~ “Above all else, we are committed to the care and improvement of human life. In recognition of this commitment, we strive to deliver high quality, cost effective healthcare to the communities we serve. In pursuit of our mission, we believe the following value statements are essential and timeless.”

~ “We recognise and affirm the unique and intrinsic worth of each individual. We treat all those we serve with compassion and kindness. We act with absolute honesty, integrity and fairness in the way we conduct our business and the way we live our lives. We trust our colleagues as valuable members of our healthcare team and pledge to treat one another with loyalty, respect and dignity.”

Do you want to work at any of the above? Do these declarations inspire you?

Our organisations are complex. A direct connection with purpose is difficult to find — other human traits like arrogance, greed, escaping responsibility, and need to sound good and look good are smothering simpler needs. Long and multi-hop connections between vendors, producers and users are robbing us of the simple pleasures of doing and feeling.

Now consider these statements by some others, who rank among companies that are best to work for.

~ “Do cool things.”

~ “I come into work knowing that the features I build will define the state-of-the-art for the next generation of the xxxx. It’s a huge privilege, a daunting responsibility, and an unparalleled opportunity.”

Engaging people means making a connect with a higher purpose through their day-to-day work. This happens only when you know your task, and know the difference your success will make in others’ lives. Employee engagement happens through good work. If you ignore this, all HR initiatives will not be of much help.

A lot can be done by you, no matter who you are — a team leader, a manager or a CEO — to help your people fulfil their above needs.