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by Aman Singh Das | July 06, 2011


"Not everyone is looking to work for a fun and innovative company. Some people just want a nine-to-five job with a trusted company."

That was Wells Fargo's SVP and Creative Director Michele Ronsen at a panel on the future of culture and brand as technology, gamification and new platforms change business strategy and work culture, at the recent Sustainable Brands conference.

Clearly, everyone cannot be Google or Facebook. But can anyone deny that every workplace can be fun and enjoyable?

Joining Ronsen were AT&T's SVP for Public Affairs and Chief Sustainability Officer Charlene Lake, Jones Lang LaSalle's SVP for Sustainability Strategy Michael Jordan, and author Christine Arena, with CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi S Judah Schiller moderating.

Do We Care?

Now, Ronsen's views might not sit well with a lot of people – especially millennials who, as survey after survey points out, prefer open, innovative and flexible workplaces. But for professionals in the banking and accounting sectors, is she right on the money?

Of course, from the consumer perspective, I can see Ronsen's argument.

As she went on to emphasize, "People don't want their banks to be innovative all the time. We are trusted companies, traditionally run, efficiently performing." What has changed, she continued, is that "ten years ago, every panel, every piece of research, all the focus of business was about the customers. Today, it's all about the employees."

And engaging employees –that represent several generations and a multitude of backgrounds – today requires creativity, innovation and some muscle. For Wells Fargo, she insisted, the focus remains on cultivating an enjoyable workplace, not necessarily a fun "in a gaming kind of way."

Do Employees Care?

According to a new report, launched by Saatchi & Saatchi S, "55 percent of Americans want to work for companies that use gamification as an incentive to boost productivity."

Further, as Lake pointed out, millennials are increasing looking to work for organizations that intersect business goals with sustainability and community targets."One of the most frequently asked questions in our interviews are how we complement our financial goals with corporate social responsibility. It's almost like they are interviewing us," she said.

…But Do They Know What's Best For Them?

"Games are not just an isolated trend. Companies are adapting to these next generation tools to engage their employees in a better fashion and produce happier employees," said Arena.

Knowing their pulse on these trends then and capturing their interest accordingly becomes key for keeping the best. As Schiller later told me (see below), a big percentage of people are already playing games while at work.

And by embracing this very intersection as a competitive recruitment strategy – and a way of doing business – many small companies have emerged as ambassadors of work cultures that succeed on innovation, creativity and a philosophy of holistic growth.

Does Size Matter?

The question then: Is creating this fluid workplace much easier for smaller companies? Does CSR come easier for small business?

For Arena, who is a well-known author on corporate citizenship and responsibility, "smaller organizations tend to be nimbler, more entrepreneurial, more open to creativity," and therefore often report a much higher rate of engagement, innovation, etc. (think Zappos, Netflix, etc.).

But AT&T's Lake disagreed stressing that "big companies have the advantage of being able to scale new ideas with lot more resources, facilities and dollars at their disposal." "An employee's idea has a much higher rate of being implemented within a large organization," she added.

The Future of Work Culture...

Employee engagement, after all, isn't that linear or easy.

Big company or small, people need an inclusive workplace to be productive. They require an environment that recognizes and encourages idea sharing, and incentivizes innovation. With the panelists representing very different industries – and challenges – it's safe to say that engagement today isn't just an HR function but a required management tool.

Schiller concluded by asking the panelists to describe the future of employee engagement in one word.

"Gestures," said Ronsen, adding that younger generations are using more gestures and nontraditional communication channels than ever before. "In the future, we'll have hand gestures for everything we have to say," she predicted.

For Lake and Jordan, the future means 24/7 connectivity via multiple media channels, tools and networks. While Lake called it "High velocity," Jordan went with "hyper connectivity."

Arena perhaps captured it best. "Eclectic," she said. "Employee engagement will no longer be just about doing your job. There will be many more aspects of entertainment, connecting, networking, social media, and building things together," she added.

..and Employee Retention

In a later chat, I asked Schiller to expand on the above-mentioned report:

"27 percent of surveyed respondents confessed to playing for at least 30 minutes at work, with an additional 8 percent admitting to playing between one and two hours every day," he said adding, "Regardless of companies that are instituting social media or internet policies to restrict this, people are finding ways of filling their 'boring moments' by playing on their iPhone, iPad, and other devices."

The argument then: Why not use this interest and energy in boosting employee productivity – and employee retention? Has it become that hard to capture your best employees' attention?

Talk to us: Leave a comment, connect with us on Twitter or drop me an email.

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Filed Under: CSR
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