EngagementEmployee EngagementWhen ping pong fails: the real driver of employee engagement

When ping pong fails: the real driver of employee engagement

The simplest things often go unnoticed. Like the products we use every day. Or what engages us at work.

The simplest things often go unnoticed. Like the products we use every day. Or what engages us at work. In this blog post, Kerri Hollis sits down with Ian MacRae to identify what really drives employee engagement. And they discover an answer so simple, you might not know you know it already.


Imagine a ruler only one centimetre long. So you have to shuffle it along the entire length of whatever you’re measuring.

Or a champagne glass with two flutes on one stem. So as you sip from one, the other empties its contents all over you.

Or open-toed rain boots. So as you splash through a puddle, well, I’m sure you can picture it.

The thing is, somebody did imagine all this. Katerina Kamprani is an industrial designer and creator of The Uncomfortable, a series of products she’s designed to be, well, uncomfortable. To draw attention to the little design features we take for granted every day.

Kamprani’s collection makes a point about product design. But the same applies in business. In a rush to do things better, business leaders often overlook the things that are most important. And their best intentions for improvement turn into uncomfortable results. Kamprani’s series is a lesson we could all do with learning.

Before you can make something better, like rulers, champagne glasses, or (you guessed it) employee engagement, you need to make sure the fundamentals are in place.

You need to focus on what’s most important.

An engaged state of mind

“Employee engagement is essentially a positive state of wellbeing in the workplace.” That’s Ian MacRae, workplace psychologist and author of Myths at Work. I sat down with him to find out what he thinks is the most fundamental driver of employee engagement.

“It’s feeling passionate and really putting yourself into the work.”

So the most fundamental driver of employee engagement is the employee? Actually, no. While it might appear to be the employee’s responsibility to be engaged, they can only do so much. It’s as much up to the leadership team to get employees into the right state of mind. If work is not a place they enjoy coming to, employee engagement is going to be an uphill struggle.

So how can you, the leader, make your employees passionate about coming in to work? Ian has a hint – it’s not ping pong tables or slides or ball pits in the office. It’s not fluff. “I think it comes from a good place,” he tells me. “But it misses the mark.”

Employee engagement starts with the work

The most fundamental part of your business is the work. To engage your employees, the work they do must be interesting. And once you realise that, it’s simple. It just takes this three-step structure.

First, agree objectives with your employees – for their work and their careers.

Then measure the outcomes and invite employees to track and share their own development and successes.

Finally, hold people accountable for a job well done, and reward consistently high performance.

Employees want to have jobs they’re good at and that develop them as people – both in the workplace and in their personal lives. The structure above gives them that. And though everyone has days when they’re just not feeling their best, if an employee can look at the big picture and see that the work they’re doing is adding value to the business and to themselves, they’re far more likely to be engaged.

You’ll get some rewards of your own, too. Fulfilling work has measurable benefits like fewer sick days, reduced stress, and lower staff turnover. All of which makes your business a better place to work. And employee engagement becomes its own driver.

Ping pong tables can’t do all that.


I sat down with Ian MacRae, workplace psychologist and author of Myths at Work, to talk more about how business leaders can make sure that work, above all else, is engaging employees. You can join the conversation here.

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