For the past several years, the business world and particularly the HR world has been focused on the concept of employee engagement. Way back in 2013, Gallup reported that only 13% of employees worldwide were engaged. The good news is that more recent reports indicate a higher percentage of workers engaged – 32% in the US. Since then, the race has been to find the secret to increasing employee engagement.
What is engagement?
Employee engagement is the emotional connection an employee feels toward his or her employer, which tends to influence his or her behaviors and level of effort in work related activities. The more engagement an employee has with his or her company, the more effort they put forth.
Seeing Employee Engagement in Action
Last week I had the opportunity to see employee engagement in action. While in Las Vegas to speak at the Health and Benefits Leadership Conference, I scheduled a tour at Zappos.
Zappos is a 19-year-old Internet shoe, clothing and accessories company with 1,400 employees, whose business strategy is based on delivering outstanding customer service. My reason for wanting to visit Zappos is that they are also known for their workplace culture. Having read Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness, I wanted to see employee engagement in action. I was not disappointed.
I had a private tour with Company Culture Maestro Ryo, who was effervescent in his tales of the history of the company and the description of the operations. I toured the seven acre campus to see the many perks available to Zappos employees, including: gym/dance studio, bistro, break rooms with free food, pet friendly workplace, mothers rooms, nap room, outdoor break spaces decorated with art. I’ve no doubt forgotten a few.
The ten core values of the organization are evident not only in the way that Ryo talked about how they provide service to their customers, but also in the employee experience. The value that was easiest to see was #3 “Create fun and a little weirdness.” I met individuals whose job title is “Fungineer”. Their job consists of planning fun activities and social events. Fostering social interactions is another core value (#7 Build a positive team and family spirit.) Who wouldn’t want that job! Everyone I spoke with was actively engaged in his or her work, interactions with others, and they were having fun. Employees decorate their workspace to show their unique personality, as you see in Ryo’s picture above. While I didn’t see one, there are random parades for celebrations. When someone shows up for a job interview in a suit and tie, they cut off their tie and add it to a display in the lobby.
Hiring to Fit
One of the aspects that I found most interesting was their hiring process. Zappos isn’t the right place for everyone. They work very hard to hire people who are a fit for the culture and alignment of personal values, in addition to skills/experience. The hiring process consists of multiple interviews with a number of team members. Once hired, everyone goes through a four-week training program. They are trained in all aspects of customer service, including how to be a customer service agent. During peak volume times (November, December and January), all employees right up to the CEO are expected to jump on the phones to handle customer service calls. At the end of the four-week training, each employee presents a culture project that features one or two of the company values. The presentation can be a video or a skit, whatever they want. They have less than a 1% drop out rate from these training programs.
Accountable for Results
Now that Zappos is part of a public company (acquired by Amazon in 2009), I asked how the employees stay focused on the accountability necessary to meet the goals of a public company. The answer came back to the culture and values. In my visit to Zappos, I saw happy, engaged employees committed to the values and goals of the organization and really excited to be at work. What more could an employer ask for?