The Little Things

There is much said and written about employee engagement.

What it is, how to get more of it, how to find out what it’s like at your place. Levers, drivers, surveys, consultancy. 

We seem to put a little less focus on disengagement, save for the regular lament that vast swathes of the workforce are in that space and that we need to do something about it.  Whatever that is.   

The one thing that I have learned along the way, is that when it comes to disengagement, most of the time it’s all about the little things.

Whether we are talking about engagement or disengagement, often it is the little things that people remember, that matter, that have the power, that makes us feel.

Some years ago, I ran an employee survey. We asked our employees what they thought the company should change at that place, to make it a better place to work for everyone.

One reply simply said: ‘make the chips in the canteen less soggy’.

I permitted myself an eye roll.  A knee-jerk FFS.  Because there had to be something more useful, constructive, relevant, important to say than that.

But actually, I was wrong. Because it mattered to him.  In his world, that is the thing that was most important, the little thing that bugged him and made his day a little less than it could really have been.

So I passed his feedback to the canteen manager, telling him that some of the employees thought he made soggy chips.  I reached new heights of HR popularity that day.

But here’s the thing. Workplaces are full of niggles.  The temperature of the air conditioning.  That person at the next desk who just doesn’t stop taking.  The quality of the coffee in the machine.  The printer that always jams up when you need something urgently.  The technology that you have to use, or the technology that you can’t.  That bloody HR policy. The commute.  Meetings that overrun.  Never ending sales calls. Emails and more emails. 

We’ve all got our own personal niggles. Those things that disengage us and frustrate us. 

If you want to improve what people feel about working for your place, which is what engagement really is after all, then it can’t just be about driving engagement, but removing those things that disengage too. And whilst we all want to focus on the strategy, and making the big difference, and introducing the new initiative, there needs to be time for the little things too.  To remove the disengaging factors, and to help others do it for themselves. 

Overzealous fire walls blocking useful websites.

Rigid working hours when the role doesn’t demand it.

Making it to find stuff out.

Lack of communication.

A lack of choice, from the temperature in the office to the time you can take your lunch break.

Poor meeting etiquette.

Email overload. A plague of the CC box.

The food.  

Never hearing a simple thank you. 

And so on.


These are just some of the things that disengage. 


And they are choices, too.


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