Employee Engagement: Pass the Pretzels, Not the Buck


Employee engagement activities are often considered the bike trails of the work place. You see, the best cities are great places to do business and raise a family. To attract the people that are going to work at and run those businesses and raise those families, a city has to have amenities like bike trails (and parks and pools and public transportation and plumbing and pharmers markets—it’s how they spell it in Europe). At Strategic America, employee engagement activities are a key part of our culture. It’s that intangible piece of the puzzle that makes it easier to deal with that one bonehead who ruins everything (EVERYTHING). Everyone knows the first step in keeping your employees engaged is to encourage them to reach their full potential by putting them in positions that best utilize their skills, while challenging them and creating a safe environment for them to learn and succeed.

Step two is to give them beer.

Anheuser Busch would be thrilled if it was that easy, but it is a little more complicated. Planning a party at work is serious business. You’ve got to put together a group of employees who self-identify as fun, then set up brainstorming sessions and planning meetings and assign tasks and so on. Richard Nixon once said that having fun is hard work (Ed. Note: Richard Nixon did not say that.). What I have for you today is a list of the seven things that you encounter when planning most any kind of workplace party or activity to promote employee engagement. It’s like Stephen Coveys’ 7 Habits of Highly Effective People if you replace being proactive with team building and synergy with Doritos. Keep in mind that everyone has a different idea of what constitutes a good social event at work. People who are gross and wrong think it involves Twister. I choose to believe that the holiday party at Party City is a subdued affair because the last thing you want to do is throw a good party when you spend all day helping other people throw parties. Therefore, I bet they meditate and share one bag of Twizzlers. That’s not right for me, but I bet it really puts the helium in their balloons.

1. We’re having a party!
So someone decided that it’s time to have a party? That sounds like fun! We better gather up the perfect combination of people to plan this thing. Like I mentioned before, this is where you have to put together a list of people who self-identify as fun. Next, cross off the names of people who have incorrectly identified themselves as fun. (Sorry, Craig. The votes are in and you stopped being fun when it was discovered that you quote the film Big Momma’s House un-ironically.) You should have five to eight people left who are all pretty likely to know the difference between what they like at a party and what most people like at a party. This distinction is key to a successful work party!

2. You can pick a venue and you can pick your nose, but, come on man, don’t pick your nose.
This can go two ways: you can host the event at the office or you can take the show on the road and reserve a space off-site. I think it’s best to let the party decide this for itself. Are you putting together a casual affair? Keep it at the office. Are spouses/significant others (fine, Meredith—Alice is your “roommate”) invited? Find a fun and interesting space (for example, West End Salvage or the Botanical Center in Des Moines). If you settle on a dull location, there is a 65% chance that your party is going to be dull (Source: science).

3. Shop ‘til you drop!
The best part about having your whole shindig off-site is that the venue will give you a list of food and beverage options and you can pick whatever you want. We host a monthly happy hour at our office that requires a trip to the store. Pro tip: If you buy a cartful of beer and wine at 9:00 am on a Wednesday and your cashier doesn’t ask if everything is OK, that cashier has probably seen some things and could use some positive reinforcement from you. Also, get a variety of drinks for people. Don’t forget that some of your coworkers don’t drink or just don’t drink in front of you. Either way, you’re going to need some options that are sans alcohol (that means “without alcohol”). Snacks are always a good ice breaker at these events. Buy some interesting options and it will get the crowd talking and boom – you have a party.

4. Setting up is hard to do.
Make sure you are ready to go at party time. There is nothing worse than showing up at a social work event that isn’t ready for you (there are worse things—bedbugs!—but you get what I mean). This is the perfect opportunity to delegate work out to the rest of the committee. If Craig could lift more, we might have kept him around. The rest of the committee wants to help, they just need to be asked.

5. Pump up the jam.
Finally! It’s time for you to enjoy your party, so take a load off. This is where good planning will really pay off. If everything is in place, the party will take care of itself and you can have a refreshing drink while people shower you with condiments compliments. You’re a responsible person, so you already know that it’s a good idea to keep your composure at this kind of work event. Don’t let a couple drinks convince you that you should say all those things you’ve been keeping to yourself. Those secrets are between you and your pillow.

6. Girl, bye.
Historically, blog readers have a lot of responsibilities and commitments so none of you will need to be reminded of this item. It is a social faux pas to overstay your welcome. Just ask Kato Kaelin or the TV show The Big Bang Theory. Enjoy yourself and your coworkers and then git while the gittin’s good. As Courtney Love did not say, “Always leave them wanting more.” Besides, if you stick around too long you’re going to have to help clean up.

7. Mean, lean, cleaning machine.
Besides having a lovely staff of people to make and serve your food and drinks, the other major benefit of having a coworker-centered celebratory fete at a rented venue is that they will probably be pretty cool with you not helping them clean up. If you find yourself in a situation where you are cleaning up after a soiree at work the best thing you can do is BE THOROUGH. Or, you know, if you want all the fun to be cancelled forever, leave a mess. Someone else will probably take care of it, right? That sign in the kitchen that says, “Your Mother Doesn’t Work Here,” is meant in good fun like “deer crossing” or “don’t wear white pants while taking this medication.” But really, the first step in planning your next event is to clean up after the one you just had (I know you guys didn’t see it, but one of those “The More You Know” stars just totally sailed past my head. It was magnificent.).

There you have it. Having fun with people you don’t voluntarily spend time with in seven easy steps. If you employ these seven steps and don’t end up with a fun event that brings everyone together, you should come and work at SA because we’re pretty great at it.


Leave a Reply