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Evolution Of Employee Engagement in A Startup : From Chaos To Mess

Life in a startup is demanding. We loved unorganized work before, it was fun. But this Chaos which once was employee engagement is becoming a mess and needs an innovation.

We’re in the millennial generation where majority of our employees are youths. They are aggressive, they are innovative and they are restless. And so, I have been asked many a times that how can we keep such a workforce engaged as attention spans keep on reducing and turnover rates keep on increasing.

So I decided to share a startup’s perspective in the field of employee engagement. We, Xoxoday, are a young team of 150+ people. And when I say young it not only refers to the age of the company – we will turn 5 in April – but it also refers to the fact that the average age of employees in the company is 27 years.

I now feel that it was easier to engage the employees in the initial days of our business. All my people liked the Chaos. People were installed in multi-functional roles and they loved working tirelessly. No one thought too much about the task at hand. This Chaos was Employee Engagement for all of us.

However, in the recent past as the team has grown, I have sensed an element of doubt among the people. They talk about specific KRA’s, job descriptions, hierarchy clarity, negativity in business and lots more. They talk less about problem solving and more about the problems. I wonder is growth a function of talent engagement levels in the company.

I wonder if Chaos which was once the best talent engagement activity in our startup has become a Mess.

We realized that talent engagement too needs an innovation and along with sorting out the chaos, we needed to take bold steps to clear out the mess. We decided to put simple processes in place which would make people’s life simpler and easier. Processes in today’s world are treated as a “headache” but we want them to be the best friends of employees – A simple communication depicting these processes can make people’s life easy.

Thus, we have taken a few initiatives within the company and would like to share a couple of examples from present and past.

1. In our early days, we had rented an old duplex house as an office, housing around 60 peoole. Diwali time was near and our people suggested to get it painted. The property owner asked for a premium of Rs. 2.5 lacs to get it done. It was a huge amount for us to allocate at that point of time and we founders started thinking whether we should pursue it or not. Suddenly, we came up with an idea of organizing a “Paint Day”. Here we asked the employees to paint their own wall. We gave them colors and brushes and found it to be a great employee engagement activity. Some of them where painting for the first time in life and People just loved it. Some made their favorite cartoon characters, some made abstract graffiti and the office looked uber cool. We hardly spent Rs. 20,000 on the overall activity. And good PR was the icing on the cake.

2. People at Startups usually complain about stress and work-life imbalance. They enjoy working for extended hours but recently, we sensed a feeling of tiredness @ work. Our HR team came up with a whacky idea of installing music systems at work and organize head banging sessions every evening. People now dance, head bang, are engaged and destressed.

To sustain some of these initiatives, We’ve made an idea board where employees can suggest ideas to make Xoxoday a great place to work. We have made it a habit to implement one new idea every quarter and our HR team drives it.

I somehow feel the role of a leader is more of a coach who shows the direction, makes people’s life easy and make himself redundant over a period of time. He/she moves on to automate other processes and inefficiencies in the system. So, now we study various touch points between the company and the employees and work on digitizing it everyday!

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Kushal Agrawal is the founder of a 5 years old travel venture Xoxoday. He is an adventure enthusiast who loves to travel and meet new people. Kushal has represented India in several long formats of adventure and travel such as Mongol Rally (An Unsupported Drive from London to Mongolia), Great Rift Valley Drive and many more. He has travelled to 25+ EuAfricAsian countries and is an avid cook.

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