Expert Interview Series: Paula Clapon of Hppy on Company Culture and Employee Engagement
Paula Clapon is a content strategist for Hppy, an employee engagement online community for human resources professionals. We recently talked with Paula to learn some tips on how to maintain company morale and maximize employee engagement.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Why are you so passionate about employee engagement?
I think I was more fortunate than most people, because my first job was for an HR startup that had created an employee engagement platform. I wasn't familiar with the term, but as I started doing more research and developing a content strategy for them, I understood the importance of the term. As an employee, I realized how important it is to have purpose in your work and to feel motivated to do more and be more. I also understood a company's view on engagement to be a key element for talent attraction and retention. Together with my team, we decided we want to leave people better than we found them – and employee engagement was our way of achieving that.
If someone were to say to you, "Whenever someone mentions a 'positive workplace culture,' it's just a code-phrase for encouraging people to walk around being annoyingly cheery at all times," how might you respond?
I don't think anyone can be happy all the time. And they shouldn't have to. A positive work culture doesn't refer to a constant feeling of joy in the office. Instead, it refers to a culture of collaboration, communication, clarity, and transparency. Clarity in what you have to do, collaboration to achieve it, and communication and transparency in management practices are all positive aspects of a workplace culture.
What are some early red flags which could indicate a worsening of employee engagement or morale?
A decline in performance or an increase in sick days are pretty obvious signs that something is wrong. It can be a sudden withdrawal from interactions at work, a lack of interest in attending meetings or contributing new ideas, or even conflicts with co-workers. There are also more subtle signs that require some effort to identify, such as a constant "bare minimum" approach to their work or an apparent presence in meetings but with superficial or calculated interventions. In every instance, it's important to reach out to that employee and figure out what's causing this behavior. They could be having a challenging personal time or a family crisis, in which case the support of their colleagues and manager is essential. On a larger scale, an entire group of employees can be showing signs of disengagement when the quality of the product or service they are delivering has decreased, when customers express their dissatisfaction, or when you have a sudden spike in turnover.
How can a company determine whether a particular job applicant is a good fit for the company culture?
At Hppy, we developed a Personal Development Framework for Employees that we use to check for a culture fit. Although it might sound too fluffy for a tough, competitive recruitment process, for us it continues to be essential in identifying the people who match our company vision and values. The goal behind it is to find out what drives a person, both on a personal level as well as on a professional level. We ask questions such as "If you never had to work another day in your life, how would you spend your time?" or "What are the strengths others see in you?" When we get a better feeling of a candidate's personal values, we look to see if they match our own values and if they would thrive in our culture.
Finish this sentence: "You know you're focusing too much on company culture and not enough on actual work or the bottom line when…"
…you're investing resources in culture initiatives without connecting them to business goals. Objectively, the purpose of a business is to make a profit. Your talent and your culture are there to support business processes that can lead to achieving business objectives. Everything you do, including company culture initiatives, should connect to your business goals.
What is your opinion on the effectiveness of gamification challenges and team-building events in order to boost employee engagement?
I think they have a very high potential to improve engagement when done correctly. These type of initiatives should be incorporated into a cohesive engagement strategy that connects to the actual work that employees are doing. A good example is Air Cargo Netherlands; they produced a game version of their logistics system called “Smartgate.” It was used to help employees understand a certain way of thinking about the job, i.e. imagining it as a link in a chain while also illustrating the consequences of their decisions without risk to the company.
Give us one relatively simple way that a company or manager can start increasing employee engagement immediately.
Have a meal with your team. Even better, cook a meal together with your team. Research from Cornell University states that eating together can create more cohesiveness and higher performance. They relate these improvements to the primal nature of eating. In one study, researchers interviewed about 400 firefighters. They found that the firefighters that ate meals together and cooked together had higher levels of performance. It also increased their interaction and collaboration as every person had a job in preparing the meal.
As today's millennials in the workforce get older and earn more work experience, what will companies have to do in the future to maintain employee engagement?
I think they need to constantly learn and adapt. Millennials are keen on developing themselves continuously and on shaping the workplace to match their own values. But regardless of which generation they belong to, employees need different things at different stages of their careers. Engaging older, more experienced employees is certainly a challenge; but it comes back to creating the right culture and offering the right incentives for those employees to continue to find purpose and motivation their work.
hubEngage can help boost your employee engagement efforts. Try the hubEngage app for free today!