Increase Employee Engagement. Give Up Your Office.

Marisa Keegan Audacious Ideas, Culture, Employee Relations, Engagement and Satisfaction, Marisa Keegan

Steve Church said it best: “If you help employees fix broken processes, you’ll gain employee engagement”. Not only is this quote spot on, but it brings me to my favorite ‘HR People Make Me Crazy’ rant.


Cubicles[4] How HR Tries To Increase Engagement:

First, they have an ah-ha moment where they realize the key to employee engagement is understanding employees challenges, removing barriers, and fixing broken processes. Second, a survey is created, distributed, and analyzed. New policies are created based on those surveys (which captured 2% of what employees really wanted to say), and HR sits around wondering why their engagement scores haven’t gone up.

I/O folks, deep breathing will help clear the anger you’re feeling right now. Before you attack my seeming distrust of surveys, just know that I’m actually a huge fan and use engagement surveys often. HOWEVER, that survey can only give me a high level pulse on how my organization is doing. Increasing engagement is more than looking for high level trends throughout the organization and creating policies to fix them. It’s about understanding individual teams and divisions. More importantly, it’s about finding ways to understand individual employees.  

How HR Should Increase Engagement:

Engagement goes up when employees feel they have someone to turn to who can help them fix what is broken in their lives. To increase engagement you need to be the type of HR person who employees feel comfortable opening up to, the kind of HR person employees want to open up to. If you are serious about increasing employee engagement, there is an easy place to start. Stop thinking that because you’re HR, you need to have your own office. Literally, my blood boils when HR people try to defend this need. I’m sure some of you are thinking. “But…

“…I have private conversations all the time and need a space where I can close a door”.

Does your company have conference rooms? When someone needs to have a private conversation with you, go into one of them. Also, tell me that you never close the door just to block out whatever is going on outside your office. A door (even when it’s open) is a barrier that takes a little bit of guts for an employee to walk through. It can even be a little bit scary, like going to the principal’s office. Building engagement is about being so easily accessible to employees that you are literally in the path of their frustrations when they need to get it all out.

“…if others see us walking into the conference room they’ll assume that employee is in trouble.”

That means you’re the HR person people only see when you’re carrying a pink slip in your hand (and I hate that for you). Maybe you need to pull employees into conference rooms more often just to tell them you’ve heard good things about their work, or simply to ask them what you can do to make their lives easier. If 80% of your private conversations with employees are positive, then when you have to have a negative one, no one on the outside will know the difference.

You Don’t Really Need That Office

I can’t stand HR people who think they have to have an office to get their job done, because they are the reason our industry has gotten so far away from the one thing that started our profession in the first place – being a resource for our employees. Some of my most enlightening years in HR happened when I was sitting smack in the middle of a sea of cubicles. I knew when someone hit a milestone, I knew the company gossip, I knew which managers rocked and which ones failed, and most importantly, I knew which processes were broken and I was able to help employees fix them.

I will never accept an office again and I will always be the HR person who knows which process to fix. Are you willing to join me?

Marisa Keegan

Marisa is a Culture Coach for small and quickly growing organizations trying to establish the infrastructure required to create a company full of passionate, motivated, and engaged employees. She has held culture and engagement roles for two nationally recognized great places to work, founded the research and networking group Culture Fanatics, and is an industry recognized blogger. She lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband and twin boys and is looking forward to the day she can bike across the country to raise money for MS research. @marisakeegan.