When great perks fail: winning conversion to employee engagement


This is the third article in a three part series on employee engagement.  The  first article began a case study of a company that focused almost exclusively on boosting its benefits and perks in hopes that it would lead to happy employees and customers.  When we consulted with the company we found there was a disconnect between satisfaction and engagement, and all those great perks quickly became entitlements to employees, so we shifted our focus to engagement efforts.  The second article outlined three of the broader initiatives we implemented to increase engagement; these initiatives emphasized a lean operations approach.  Now let’s take a look at the outcomes of a culture shift from a company essentially doing everything possible to please employees, to a company that engages its employees in its mission, vision, and problem identification and solution proposals.

The following are three examples of what that culture shift can do:

  • Generate cost-saving ideas: One of the departments we worked with was looking for ways to reduce their budget.  Previously it was up to the leadership team to identify areas to cut, and then roll those changes out to employees.  Using lean principles, we began a culture shift to engage employees in change, so leaders asked employees for ideas.  Employees suggested that their department could save money on coffee.  This seemingly insignificant idea wound up saving the company over $500,000 annually.  In employee satisfaction efforts, leadership had offered many departments high-priced, single-serve coffee makers and a big selection of coffee options.  Employees said they would be equally satisfied with much more basic coffee options.  With this small change, the company saved hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, maintained strong satisfaction scores, and boosted employee engagement since the idea came from front-line employees.
  • Increase productivity: One area of satisfaction that was consistently low was the number of employees available to do a job.  There was one department that had a fairly robust staff, but routinely spent about $40,000 each month outsourcing aspects of its work.  Using lean and engagement principles of involving employees in change and increasing autonomy, employees and management worked together to redistribute the work load and share best practices.  Changes were implemented after a few days of meetings, and within two months they were able to completely eliminate the need to outsource anything.  Most of the changes involved employees swapping work responsibilities with each other so that they better utilized their strengths, but some employees just needed their schedules adjusted by 30 minutes so that the flow of work throughout the day was optimized.  Because employees and management worked together to make the changes, buy-in was immediate and complete; employees embraced the changes and were motivated to make it work since it was their idea.
  • Build trust: This last one is a bit less tangible than the previous two, because trust is almost entirely internal and relative to each person.  However, at this company trust was an issue because another frequent complaint was that employees felt that management did not do enough to keep them informed of things that would impact their jobs.  As part of employee engagement, we rolled out structures of communication to emphasize the purpose to employees, and to enable more transparency at all levels.  Too often I see front-line employees discontent in their work because they have no idea how vital their job is to the rest of the organization.  We coached leaders to give employees opportunities to see the impact of their work and how it interfaces with other employees, departments, and the overall mission of the company; the measurable result was reduced turnover and absenteeism as employees became engaged in the mission and found a reason to stay and do good work.


This company still maintains an excellent perks/benefits program, and that program does play a significant role in recruitment and employee satisfaction.  Now, though, they also are equipped to engage employees with the mission, vision, and goals of the company; it’s a shift from top-down management to a teamwork approach with leaders as coaches.  As I mentioned in my other articles in this series, employee engagement has a lot in common with lean operations, so if you are ready to increase productivity, build trust, and generate cost-saving ideas, a good place to start is Lean Support Solutions.

“Whatever comes out of these gates, we’ve got a better chance of survival if we work together” –Maximus Meridius, Gladiator