Party On, HR

Shared Leadership Carol Andersonby Carol Anderson, Columnist & Featured Contributor

[su_dropcap style=”flat”]D[/su_dropcap]OES IT STRIKE YOU as odd that the July/August HR Magazine features a seven-page article titled “25 Fun & Easy Ways to Boost Morale?” On first glance, this looks pretty neat. The writer crowd-sourced ideas on social media and shared them in the article. The ideas range from movie tickets to time off to an ugly sweater contest. Each story exclaimed how excited the employees were with the activity.

Call me a spoil sport but the article hit me the wrong way. My first thought was….our profession has been trying for decades to get out of the role of party planner, so now our professional magazine is touting party planning?

And then I thought to myself, “You really are a grouch, aren’t you?

Courtesy of

So I read through the details and found that most of the activities were actually conducted by a wellness department, or by committees formed to engage employees. Okay, so it really isn’t HR that is giving the party. That made me feel better.

Not everyone likes a party

Then the introvert in me looked at the pictures of employees hamming it up for the camera, or hanging around for free food and I thought, “Oh wow, let me have that ‘time’ you are giving me to have fun to go home and have fun there. And PLEASE don’t make me show up in an ugly sweater!

I remembered a conversation at a client’s leadership retreat. They were considering a white water rafting experience for the employees. The introverts recoiled, the couch potatoes frowned, and the sensitive ones worried for those not in good physical condition. They opted for a potluck instead.

I think, though, that my real problem with fun approach to making employees happy is that it only makes a few happy, and only for a short time. If your ultimate aim is engagement, this ain’t gonna do it.

Strive instead for commitment

While many consider happiness a synonym for employee engagement, I do not. I think commitment is a much better synonym, and certainly more productive for business outcomes.

Employees commit to a vision, and get excited because their work makes a difference to their organization. They commit to a leader because they feel valued. They commit to their team mates, because together they produce so much more.

They commit to an organization that authentically listens to their personal needs, and finds a way to, if not fulfill, at least explain why they cannot fulfill. They commit to a leader that makes a connection with them personally, and works hard to build an authentic business relationship. They commit to a team that capitalizes on everyone’s strength, and supports everyone’s struggles.

And with that commitment to the organization, the leader and the team, they are productive and achieve business outcomes that generate pride in their work.

There is one idea I liked

The one idea in the HR Magazine article that thought had promise is “On a Personal Note.” This HR team asked directors to write personal, handwritten notes to employee who went above and beyond. What a lovely practice. The client I mentioned above did something similar, and executives took employees who did something noteworthy to lunch.

The “Personal Notes” described in the article though, had HR sending the notes to employees’ homes. Perhaps that HR team had the capacity to do work that didn’t actually drive the business, but I think that’s unusual. Unless the inclusive cost of this process produced measurable results, I suggest the director could get a bigger bang for the buck by walking the personal note over to the employee and shaking their hand in front of their peers.

Or better yet, sitting with the employee and asking them how their work is going, and what would make their job easier.

Call me a grouch, but I think activities done on the company’s time should make a measurable contribute to the bottom line.


Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson
CAROL is the founder and Principal of Anderson Performance Partners, LLC, a business consultancy focused on bringing together organizational leaders to unite all aspects of the business – CEO, CFO, HR – to build, implement and evaluate a workforce alignment strategy. With over 35 years of executive leadership, she brings a unique lens and proven methodologies to help CEOs demand performance from HR and to develop the capability of HR to deliver business results by aligning the workforce to the strategy. She is the author of Leading an HR Transformation, published by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2018, which provides a practical RoadMap for human resource professionals to lead the process of aligning the workforce to the business strategy, and deliver results, and writes regularly for several business publications.

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  1. Good article! This paragraph sums it up for me “Employees commit to a vision, and get excited because their work makes a
    difference to their organization. They commit to a leader because they
    feel valued. They commit to their team mates, because together they
    produce so much more.”

    Although I do enjoy a good party occasionally, employee engagement is deeper than that. People want to be valued; they want their work to be valued; and they want their time to be valued.

    Commitment & value- a powerful combination!

  2. Carol, I’m with Steve. I think you demonstrated your knee-jerk reaction and then thoughtful examination that resulted in some very sound advice. I am a corporate trainer and I teach mentorship and leadership skills. Nothing means more to employees, regardless of being introverted, extroverted, or anything else than an authentic acknowledgement of their value and accomplishments. That is why I agree with the use of personal notes and I’d like to add effective mentoring and sponsorship. I recently read a study wherein 63% of new hires who left the job within the first 6 months said that if they’d had better training, a clearer understanding of what was expected of them and a mentor, they would have stayed.

  3. Carol – this is brilliant, on a number of levels. … which I guess really means I’m in wholehearted agreement with all of it. (I’m BTW an executive coach

    The “Personal Notes” idea ought to be not just about a proxy pat on the head, but about the kind of acknowledgement and connection that builds relationships. Routing it through HR is just ridiculous.

    And the “fun activities”? Too often they’re used as a desperate and misguided attempt to engage otherwise disengaged employees — disengaged for way more deeply rooted reasons than the absence of fun activities. It’s not like we shouldn’t offer fun activities at work. But let’s be real and stop connecting them with the concept of employee engagement.

    Lots more positive reaction to your piece, but I’ll stop there. Hope lots of people read it; it’s quite well-written (in addition to your simply being right about a lot of things).

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Steve. Great added point about personal notes and building relationships.