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Creating a Happier and More Engaged Workforce… On a Shoestring Budget

21 September 2016 at 9:41 am
Mike Davis
Improving workplace culture, and employee engagement and wellbeing doesn’t have to break the bank, writes Mike Davis, founder of Purposeful.

Mike Davis | 21 September 2016 at 9:41 am


Creating a Happier and More Engaged Workforce… On a Shoestring Budget
21 September 2016 at 9:41 am

Improving workplace culture, and employee engagement and wellbeing doesn’t have to break the bank, writes Mike Davis, founder of Purposeful.

Your people are your greatest asset. So it makes sense that you’d want to look after them. However, working in the employee engagement space can be daunting and resource intensive. Perhaps this is why it is often avoided altogether. In this article I’ll outline a few simple ways that you can boost employee engagement and wellbeing without breaking the bank.

Volunteering programs

Does your workplace have some sort of volunteering or charitable leave? Some of the best workplaces in the country are now recognising the importance of voluntary work to their people by offering a few days per year of paid leave to volunteer with programs or causes of their choice.

The recent Greatest Places to Work Australia 2016 report found that 74 per cent of companies offer their people paid time off (not including holiday leave) for the purpose of volunteering in a community project or charitable organisation, with a maximum of 20 hours per year (three days).

Volunteering is good for building collaborative relationships, fostering kindness and also developing a closer connection and love for your organisation. Sarah Ford of America’s Charities makes a strong argument for corporate volunteering given its ability to reduce turnover and increase engagement.

It is also comparatively cheap to set up and run volunteering programs compared to the usual training and development costs associated with usual work. Volunteering Victoria’s business case for corporate volunteering pulls the evidence together nicely.

Eating together

Humans are hardwired to engage in mission oriented tasks together. In ancient times, many of these tasks were around planning, capturing and eating food together. So when we have a group lunch with work colleagues we are really building strong team bonds, that will allow for us to better understand each other and to work together better in the future. This is often referred to as “the social glue” that binds us together.

The first time I experienced this and possibly the most impactful was a university class that asked us to cook and bring in a dish from our culture to enjoy. You can imagine how understanding and celebrating a team’s diversity through eating together and sharing stories about our food can do great things for work groups.

A more recent occasion was when a division in the organisation I was working at ordered dumplings for 25 people. We sat together in the boardroom passing plastic containers around along with chopsticks, plates and sauces. We shared about 10 different dishes and in the process laughed, indulged and made a mess. Everyone chipped in some cash, people volunteered to pick up food, set up the room and collect cash and we ate as a division.

A recent Cornell University study of firefighters eating habits provides some evidence that eating with colleagues can lead to increases in productivity and performance. The study revealed that the talking that takes place while eating together increases familiarity and the likelihood of collaboration.

Sports programs

Team sport is a great way to get physically and mentally healthy, but it is also a great platform to build cooperation, team spirit and organisational culture. A systematic review from earlier this year found that team sport holds benefits not only for individual health but also for group cohesion and performance and organisational benefits such as the increased work performance.

Sports programs allow you to interact with your colleagues in new ways, learn about your respective, strengths, weaknesses and roles. Engaging in regular sport will have you performing better, but also working better in a team orientation.

Challenges here are finding the right, inclusive sport for the group, a relevant competition and whether there are facilities to support this. The good news is that even walking or jogging together can be considered a sport and all you need is a pair of runners and some running shorts! VicHealth are currently doing some exciting work in this space, welcoming innovative ideas as to how to get people physically active and reducing the barriers to greater engagement with sport.

Personally, I’m a big fan of the walking meeting. This is a great way to bring a small group of colleagues together and walk and talk rather just sitting and talking. Recent research out of Stanford University indicates that the act of walking leads to increases in creative thinking. The research also suggests that walking meetings lead to more honest exchanges between team members and are more productive than traditional sit-down meetings.

Mindfulness programs

Mindfulness and its associated meditation practices have become increasingly popular in the Western world. Jon Kabbat-Zin is widely attributed to have pioneered its spread and its practice in the west, particularly for the purpose of stress reduction and application in treating mental illness.

However, mindfulness has also proven to be a highly effective approach to improving workplace

productivity, culture and employee wellbeing. A 2015 study supported these findings and also found mindfulness to act as a protective factor in controlling work environments.

Mindfulness meditation programs have been popular in Silicon Valley for some time with Google, IBM, Twitter and Apple again leading the way in applying innovative workplace practices to boost creativity, productivity, innovation and wellbeing. Smiling Mind has recently pioneered the mindfulness in the workplace program in Australia.

This program is geared toward creating healthy minds for healthy workplaces. It encourages users to “check in with themselves” and in doing so help manage stress, improve productivity and achieve a good work-life balance. The app has seven modules over 30 sessions to help users build mindfulness skills and providing the app to businesses allows Smiling Mind to continue to provide its school program to schools and the broader community.

The benefits to the workplace, beyond happier and more engaged employees includes reduced sick leave and stress claims, retention of skilled staff, a positive work environment, increased engagement and morale, and a return on investment.

Bringing it all together

I’ve outlined four basic approaches that you might consider implementing to help improve your workplace culture and employee engagement and wellbeing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, all involve bringing people together in safe contexts to engage in fulfilling our core human needs – to give to others, to share our culture, story and food, to nourish our bodies, to nourish our minds.  Why not try implementing one of these per quarter and experience the change?

Let Mike know which one you will implement and how you plan to do so. He can advise on any of the above options and further discuss how you can improve your social impact, workplace culture, employee engagement and wellbeing.

About the author: Mike Davis is the founder of Purposeful, a social impact advisory dedicated to empowering businesses to grow their social impact and performance by adopting a purpose-driven approach to community, partnerships, strategy and people and culture. Mike is a former health, social and public policy adviser. Recently, he has worked as a senior advisor in government and has a Masters of Law (Human Rights). He is interested in business and social impact strategy and innovative approaches to social value and wellbeing measurement and evaluation. He is a board member at the Awesome Foundation Melbourne and a recent facilitator at Peer Academy. Start a conversation with him at

Mike Davis  |  @mikedav84

Mike Davis is a for-purpose executive leader, chief podcaster at Humans of Purpose and a board director at not for profits SIMNA Ltd and L2R Dance.

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