Guest Blog: A Lesson In Employee Engagement

April 9, 2015

The last few weeks I’ve been on a route. That’s 4 a.m. wake up calls, 5 a.m. start times, and a lot of physical labor. And minus these things, I love it.

I fill the second seat of Sonica, a box truck that primarily stocks J&J pantry accounts. The first seat, the driver seat, belongs to Road Dog. Road Dog ran our pantry route solo for almost three years but with recent expansion the task is too large. So as we search for the perfect person to help carry the load, I ride shotgun.

I say all of this for three reasons:

  1. I love our pantry accounts, maybe a little too much. Making them happy is my number one work objective (the second is to get more pantry accounts to make happy).
  2. Because I love them it’s hard to find a replacement. I believe that no one will take care of them the way that Road Dog and I can take care of them. We fill their shelves and beverage coolers the way I would pack my nephew’s lunches, taking care to pay attention to what was eaten and what wasn't, filling based on each account’s preferences. Treating each account, just like each child, as an individual.
  3. Because it’s hard to find a replacement, I imagine that I’ll be working the double shift for a while, making me "Account Merchandiser" in the AM and "VP of Operations" in the PM.

Employee engagement

The thing about it is that I think my AM shift makes me better at my PM shift. Bay Area companies who take advantage of J&J’s pantry service are all very successful. They are competitive, create fun environments to work in and treat their employees like gold. They are companies who I bet if surveyed have a high level of employee engagement, a term defined as “the emotional connection an employee feels towards his/her employment organization, which tends to influence his/her behaviors and level of effort in work related activities.”

According to a recent report by Quantum Workplace, ten different factors can contribute to employee engagement:

  1. Teamwork
  2. Manager Effectiveness
  3. Trust in Senior Leaders
  4. Trust with Coworkers
  5. Retention
  6. Alignment of Goals
  7. Feeling Valued
  8. Individual Contribution
  9. Job Satisfaction
  10. Benefit

And based on how employees feel about these ten things they range from engaged (employees who go the extra mile, advocates for the company) to hostile (employees who negatively impact the work of others and aren't committed to the company).

A few months ago I was visiting with our contact at the largest pantry account J&J services; in addition to our services they also provide free breakfasts and lunches, beer kegs, evening hangouts and what appear to be very flexible schedules.

It was a routine meeting to go over new product, discuss service, etc. but while there I made a comment that I wished J&J had the means to do for our employees what they do for theirs. She replied with, “You do.” I looked at her confused and then she explained that simple things can go a long way. Have a movie night, buy some beer and pizza; it doesn't have to be extreme to be appreciated.

I heard what she said. I believed what she said but then life got busy and I went back to checking off boxes on to do lists. That was until being on a route put employee engagement back on my radar.

I don’t know what the science behind it is but it seems to me the more you watch other people eat free croissants the more you think that not only would you like a free croissant but that maybe your employees would too.

My love for carbs and my recent obsession with employee engagement led to a discussion with our owners. Although we don’t have a massive budget to work with and there will be no kegs we did decide on a few things to 1. Show our employees we appreciate them and 2. Create a more positive workplace environment. Here they are:

  1. Tuesday breakfasts – Every Tuesday a breakfast is provided. These have ranged from donuts, to continental buffets, to waffle bars.
  2. Bi-monthly we’re hosting family fun days outside of the office. Last month we did bowling night just for adults, this May we’re having a BBQ at the park complete with a jump house for the kids.
  3. We've set up a TV monitor with a PowerPoint presentation that displays pictures from the last events, a menu for this month’s breakfasts, anniversaries, birthdays and upcoming events. A visual reminder that they are a part of this family and appreciated.

Simple enough right? But when a recent employee quit without a two week notice his friend (another J&J Account Merchandiser) was upset. In a conversation we had shortly after he said, “I told him he could leave but it won’t be the same. At J&J you’re more than an employee, who else is going to bring you breakfast?”

Reiterating, to me, that the things we do as employers to show are employees we appreciate them don’t have to be extreme to be appreciated. That at work, just as in life, little things can go a long way. It might be something as small as a $5 ham croissant that keeps you from employee turnovers. 

*This content originally appeared on The Vendors Daughter blog and was written and posted by Jennifer Skidmore. To read more of Jennifer's work in the industry, follow her blog here.