How stories improve employee engagement

Welcome to the relaunch of Wordstruck! This is where you can find stories that can help you change how you engage at work. Stories that inspire, persuade and make a difference.

It’s well known that employee engagement is down. I mean really down. A recent Gallup poll put 76% — that’s  8.74M Australian workers — who are not engaged in their job. One solution: use stories in your workplace to communicate what you’re telling your team.

In August I ran a workshop for an IT group in a resource company. Beforehand I was told that the participants were more likely to be introverted and would find telling stories a challenge. Actually, the group couldn’t wait to get started. It reminded me that it’s easy for all of us to have assumptions and to always question those before you meet someone.

During the workshop I asked people to think about a Connection story.This is what you use when you’re first meeting someone or to introduce a presentation. It’s a way to establish rapport and trust quickly. It’s much more effective than just saying who you are and what you do. In the workplace, you make sure that it has a business or relevance point. This keeps it focused and relevant.

One of the participants in the group said that he preferred using numbers and stats rather than using stories. ‘That’s my style and it works for me.’ So, when I asked people to think about a connection story, I was surprised when he raised his hand.

He went on to tell the group how important it is to set goals. ‘I like to play and coach cricket. I was playing against a team a couple of years ago. It was really hot and I could hardly run the length of the pitch. Back then I weighed 150 kilos. I decided I had to change and hired a personal trainer. Together we set goals and eight months later I’d lost 40 kilos and then I went to lose some more. I know that if you are accountable to someone it really works and it’s helped me turn things around.’

The rest of the group went quiet as he talked. At the end, his manager said, ‘I never knew that about you.’ Someone else said, ‘That was brave to tell us that.’

That one story shifted the whole group. It gave other people permission to speak up and it created a deeper sense of connection between everyone in the room.

Now, that’s how you get better engagement.