No Beanbags Required

3 ideas for creating a culture where employee engagement just happens (no comfy bean-bags required)

We’ve all seen how ‘forward thinking’, young, start-up companies like to incorporate very bright colours, massive bean bags, table-football tables and even shiny children’s slides into their offices.  This is because these things make the company fun and create an environment where employee engagement thrives, right.  Or do they ?

These things may well work for a bit.  But they are a bit of a gimmick. 

You may use the slide a couple of times. And then what ? 

You may play table football for a week or so, but then your interest will wane.  And then what ?

Engagement doesn’t come from the environment. It comes from the organisation’s culture.

These office toys are there to attempt to foster a working ethos where people are able to relax, play,  be creative and do great work.  I applaud that.  But you don’t need to be a tech start-up based in a San Francisco to have a culture where these goals are the norm.

Some tactics work equally well for more ‘normal’ types of businesses – a shoe manufacturer in Macclesfield, a law firm in Leeds, a call centre in Corby. 

Creating a working culture where people are encouraged to work in a way which generates engagement is the key. 

Here are 3 tips for different way about how to do that.


  • Make an enormous fuss about people having new ideas

Encourage people to come forward with suggestions for new ways of doing things.This isn’t a ‘suggestion-box’ scheme. You don’t need a special room with rainbow coloured bean-bags.People will NOT expect every idea that is generated to be actioned.They are sensible adults.However, if people know that their suggestions are genuinely welcomed, that should be enough to start the tap flowing.You do need an attitude of openness, a culture where all ideas are considered and a mechanism to demonstrate that any and all ideas are listened to, considered and evaluated.


  • Carve out a 3% bite-sized chunk of time for ‘pet projects’

Some technology companies actively encourage their staff to spend 1 whole day per week - up to 20% of their working time - working on projects that are not part of their core job. This may not be practical or work well for most businesses.However, encouraging your staff to put down their tools, switch off email, divert their phones for just 1 hour per week could be enough to get the ball rolling.In that 1 hour (3% of a 37 hour week) they are challenged to work on their own, with like-minded others or in larger groups.The kicker here is that people must report back on their progress and show a potential business benefit to the ideas that they have been working on.


  • Encourage your senior managers to be party hosts

This used to take the shape of a monthly team gathering on a Friday evening with snacks, cakes, pizza and drinks. People would stand around feeling a little awkward, talking to the people they always talk to and wondering when they can slip away to start their journey home.To shake people out of that malaise, why not do some pattern breaking ?

Once per fortnight, pair up teams from within your business.Senior Managers should decide which teams would benefit from a closer working relationship and jointly host the ‘party’.Choose a 30 minute slot in the middle of the day. Not lunchtime, not the end of the day. Sometime in the middle of your working day. Provide tea and coffee. Encourage people to mix socially with people from the other team – like they were at a party or a networking event.There is no business agenda.It’s a social thing – to find out more about other individuals thatwork in a different part of the same business.What ends up happening?Yes, people do form a better social bond.But they will naturally start to learn more about what the other team does. This will create links and possibly thoughts about how they could perhaps spend the next ‘Pet Project 3% Time’ working on something together. Or it may spark thoughts about a business improvement idea to throw into the suggestion box scheme.It’s a very simple win-win idea with virtually no cost to the business.


I’m yet to witness anyone come up with the idea of having a slide, bean-bags or painting all the walls a gaudy orange colour.People in all types of organisation in all industries will quickly see through those gimmicks.But give them space, time and motivation to be creative and connect with their colleagues and you’re well on the way to generating higher levels of employee engagement.