How Play Can Solve Your Employee Engagement Problem

Employee engagement has become a trendy word in the last decade, but are we willing to explore what effective employee engagement really looks like?

What organizations have to figure out is whether they believe that employee engagement is worthwhile enough to invest in. If so, what are you willing to do to change the current culture of your workplace so that your employees feel seen, heard, and cared for to engage more in their work?

Companies have to be willing to get outside of their comfort zone and challenge their outdated stories about what employee engagement is if they are to evolve. Here are 6 ways to tackle this issue:

For any organization, you first identify what you are trying to accomplish by engaging your employees.

#1. What does success look like in getting your employees more engaged?

According to a Gallup Study in 2017,85% of the workforce is not engaged at work. During COVID times human interaction and connection have decreased dramatically. How has that affected your employees' ability to engage in their work?

Companies must first define what successful employee engagement looks like.

#2. Identify your Staff’s Zone of Genius Work.

What is, as Marcus Buckingham refers to as Employee’s “Red Thread Work?” What is the work that puts your employees in a State of Flow? What is the work that they enjoy so much and thrive in that they forget about time?

If you can identify this type of work for your staff and help them increase this, even by 5–10% per week, that can have a cascading effect on the rest of your work and increase their productivity exponentially.

Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the Dr. of Flow, studied how to help teams and individuals get into a state of flow.

Perhaps explore the 20% Project Idea created by Google, where staff is given the freedom to work on their own personal projects for 1/5 of their time. Studies showed that their staff saw their work as more fulfilling, which had the added benefit of reduced turnover, and they ended up being more productive with the rest of their time.

This is the potential employee engagement can have in your workforce if you are willing to invest in it. Having a company that is not only looking out for production, but their own staff’s mental well-being is a gamechanger.

#3. Have More Compassion For Your Staff

We are expecting our staff to have similar levels of output as they did when they were coming to the office and when they weren’t in the middle of a pandemic. Where is the compassion? Where is the need to understand the context of what is going on right now for each and every one of your staff members? They might have a loved one that is sick or has died of COVID. They might be dealing with financial hardships because their spouse lost their job or money is getting extra tight because the economy has slowed. Your staff member might be less productive because they are now watching their kids, helping them with their school work, all while trying to juggle their own work, and be on time to Zoom Calls.

Find out what is going on with your staff before you expect them to produce at the same rate. Try putting yourself in their shoes and understand what they must be going through and adapt your expectations accordingly.

When they give you an answer, actually take action on this, instead of simply providing lip service to this issue. At first, they may not be willing to share what is really going on, but if you continue to show through your actions that you do care, eventually by leading from a vulnerable place will provide them the psychological safety to share what is going on with them.

Many studies have found that one of the main reasons employees leave is because of how they are treated by their boss. If your staff knows that you are looking out for their own well-being they will work harder for the organization because they are more committed to you.

#4. How Are You Building & Strengthening Connection Each & Every Day?

Your staff is more engaged when they feel more connected to each other and the work. Figure out how you can build connections even in this virtual environment:

  • Can you facilitate group lunches, where you don’t talk about work?
  • Can you make some meetings about simply letting people vent or connect in a more authentic way instead of only talking about what deadlines they need to meet and what tasks need to be taken care of?
  • How can you build more camaraderie by having staff help one another out, especially when you know someone isn’t going to meet a certain deadline and others can help to get that person’s back?

How are you building and strengthening connections between staff every day in some way?

That is the main question you need to figure out if you do care about employee engagement. The production will happen when the connection is real.

#5. Focus on Quality over Quantity

Quite a few productivity experiments have found that a 4-Day work week can be more productive than a 5 day work week. Why? Because people are more productive and engaged, knowing that they have less time to do the work and also have more energy because they were able to rest and relax in a more sustainable way.

Perhaps you can’t adopt this strategy, but you can give your staff more time off as a reward for getting certain work done. Try out different strategies to give them the rewards where you are focused on them doing really good work and not focused on your staff working 50–60 hours to get the work done.

Be aware of Parkinson’s Law, where “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.Find creative ways to work smarter, not harder. Be creative and see how you can help your staff enjoy the time that they have at work, instead of constantly just looking at the clock, waiting for it to be over.

#6. Allow Your Team To Play More & Let Go of Results

At Rediscover Your Play, I help teams to play more in order to increase their productivity. One of the ways we do this is to let go of certain results. Yes, we need to meet our Quarterly numbers, but we can let go of the specific way on how to get there.

  • Allow for your team to actually be creative, collaborative, and be willing to take risks.
  • Make the work environment more of a playground and less of a battleground, as Play Expert Gwen Gordon says.
  • Give people the freedom to figure out solutions in their own play-oriented/growth mindset way

If you do this, you’ll be amazed at what they might come up with. Trust that your employees are smart, driven, and hard-working enough to accomplish a certain goal in a way that is true to them, instead of focused so much on doing it “your” way or the “right” way.

Give freedom to your staff to play and see the magic they are able to create.

Doing employee engagement right is a mindset more than just actions. It is claiming that I care enough about my employees that I’m going to put their needs first in front of my quarterly results and my investors. If I’m willing to invest in them, they will far exceed the company’s expectations and metrics and will enjoy their jobs while doing it. That is the experiment you have in front of you as a leader.

Positive Psychology Play Speaker & Coach / Find Ways To Rediscover Your Play at

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