Ready for a true story with a surprising twist? A story that seems to have NOTHING to do with leadership and engagement but actually has EVERYTHING to do with leadership and engagement? A story about a teenager who gave me, a 20-year HR veteran, a powerful a-ha moment that I won’t forget? 

Read on. 

A couple of weeks ago, we had to send out a People Spark mailer about an upcoming event. That meant we had letters to fold, envelopes to stuff, labels and stamps to stick—all the fun stuff. For several years, I’ve paid my teenage daughters to help out. It’s a win-win: they get paid, and the work gets done.

When I told my oldest daughter (her sister was booked at a sports event) about the mailer, she answered immediately. “Sorry,” she said. “I’ve retired.”

Wait, what?!? “You can’t quit,” I told her. “I’m paying you!” 

“Yeah,” she responded calmly. “I’m not interested in doing it anymore.” 

Wow. Does that sound like something you’ve heard from employees in today’s crazy labor market? 

Her answer stopped me in my tracks. But I chose not to fight about it (if you have teens, you’ll recognize this “pick your battles” approach to parenting). Instead, I sat at the kitchen table and started folding and stuffing. After a little while, my husband joined me to apply the labels and stamps. Half an hour later, to my complete surprise, my “retired” former employee sat down at the table and started helping. She didn’t mention anything about getting paid, and no one made a big deal about her unexpected appearance. 

As we folded, stuffed, and stamped, our daughter started chatting. We talked and laughed about our days at school and at work, interrupting ourselves to critique the Minnesota Wild hockey game going on in the background. It dawned on me: my daughter didn’t want to get paid. She simply wanted to be included—to be a part of something.

My daughter helped us that night, and she continued to help for two more nights. Each time, she offered to help (I didn’t ask), and she still hasn’t said anything about getting paid. 

Cue the a-ha moment. You may have read in our recent blogs about Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall’s eight factors of engagement—specifically, the “Me” experiences and the “We” experiences. We highlighted the surprising finding that pay is NOT one of the eight factors of engagement (if you’re shocked to read that, you’re not alone). We stress the importance of creating a company culture where employees feel valued and included. 

That’s exactly what played out right in front of me with my daughter. I was focused on the money-making aspect of her work, but that’s not what she wanted or needed. Far more important was her desire to be included, to feel part of a team, and to connect with us. Of course, this learning applies—in spades—to every member of every work team everywhere. Study after study shows employees want to feel like valued team members who work together to achieve goals, reach milestones, and embody meaningful values. Sure, a paycheck may get someone to show up on the first day, but all the other goodness keeps them showing up—and why, ultimately, they’ll choose to stay. 

Now that I’ve discovered how to make my favorite employee stick around, I’ll leave you with a few questions. What are you doing to make employees on your team feel connected, to you and to each other? To feel included? Valued? Appreciated? How do you let them know they’re an integral part of something big and important? 

Find the answers, and you’ll bring out the very best in everyone you work with.


To ensure your managers and supervisors have the leadership skills they need to engage employees, secure your spot in the next cohort of our Ignite to Transform program. Watch this video and book a free informational call to find out more.

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Download the guide: Achieve Your Business Goals Through Your Culture and People Strategies.

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