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Samuel Goh, HR director of Imtech Marine Singapore, shares why cooking contests and increased leadership involvement is sometimes all it takes to boost employee engagement.

When I was first appointed human resources director at Imtech Marine Singapore, one of my key tasks was to raise the employee engagement level of the company. Engaged employees are enthusiastic about their work and the company they work for and engagement here “represents the energy, effort and initiative employees bring to their jobs”. To me, this was a challenging, but very exciting task.

Many different variables determine whether or not an employee is engaged and while I understand happy employees might not be engaged employees, I strongly believe social activities such as birthday celebrations and games will help rather than hinder engagement.

Going beyond merely promoting fun at work, our engagement team tried to combine social activities with learning opportunities – and people liked it.

Super chef competition

One “social learning” activity was a super chef competition held over lunchtime earlier this year. It was a fun time for everyone involved and teamwork was evident. Even though none of the participants were professional chefs, the food turned out great.

The challenge in this competition was abiding by the strange rules. The organisers deliberately tested the creativity of the participants by limiting the costs and ingredients of the food prepared, and the use of an open fire to cook was prohibited. This in fact, was reflective of a real-market situation where sometimes the company has to perform under challenging conditions and rules.

The various teams rose to the challenge and in the process learnt to build trust, excellence, competence and team spirit.

Fanny Hew, leader of the winning team, commented: “It was very enjoyable to participate in this activity. Everyone played a part in the final delivery and when the team won it was really satisfying. I learnt it was important to know and leverage on the strengths of each team member to achieve the common objective.”

Vickie Too, another member of the winning team, said: “This competition was a good chance for me to make friends with people from the other departments. Through this activity I learnt the importance of preparation.

“The team tried making the dish three times before the event. We also experimented with different recipes before deciding on what to present on the actual day of competition. To me, good preparation helped us win as a team.”

Leadership involvement

I appreciate the fact my job has been made easier by my enlightened boss. Gennaro Pipoli, our managing director, truly led by example in the area of employee engagement.

He introduced the “Lunch with Gennaro” movement – lunch sessions where the managing director eats with his rank-and-file employees (typically not more than seven persons per session). During such communion sessions, employees get the chance to chat with the managing director as well as get to know each other personally at the lunch table.

On top of this, Gennaro also regards the quarterly employee meetings very seriously. He understands that clear, consistent and honest communication is an important management tool for employee engagement.

When you show employees you truly care about them, they will engage.

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