The most crucial element of employee engagement

The author believes most worker motivation schemes are bunk, but there is one essential factor that makes a massive difference.

Do you love anyone at work?

Almost two decades ago, Gallup created the Q12 of employee engagement, which features 12 questions companies use to gauge worker enthusiasm and motivation. Soon after, a multi-billion-dollar industry was born, and leaders started obsessing about how to get and keep employees “engaged.”

I thought most of it was crap and still do. For me, the elusive quest for employee engagement is like watching a puppy chase its tail. A pup will rarely catch its tail, but even if Fido manages to snag it, he’ll soon be on to something else.

I’m not saying you want disengaged employees, but where does it end?

Once you go down this path of “training” your employees to keep them engaged, they will continue to need stuff just to stay at that same level of engagement. Offer a kid a cookie, and he’ll do what you say. Give a kid a million cookies, and he’ll lose interest in cookies.

Despite my dim view of employee engagement pursuits, there is one question in Gallup’s Q12 that I believe to be of utmost importance: “Do you have a best friend at work?”

It’s pretty straightforward. If you have a best friend at work, you’re more likely to want to stay at that job. What’s better than going to work each day with your best friend?

Now, take that concept one step further. Do you “love” someone at work? It doesn’t have to be “romantic” love, per se.

Consider Houston Astros stars Jose Altuve and Justin Verlander, who proclaimed their mutual love for one another during the team’s thrilling World Series run. The Astros seem to have a squad full of guys who genuinely like each other. Of course, winning the World Series helps, too, but genuine affinity, empathy and friendships all stoke employee engagement.

This is all to say that employers should build workplace community. Create an atmosphere that cultivates relationships and encourages people to build rapport. Boosting employee engagement might be an elusive, inexact science, but allowing tight-knit relationships to form is a great place to start.

A version of this post first appeared on Tim Sackett’s blog.

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