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Workplace Vampires: The Disengaged Employee

Posted By Editor, Laurie, Thursday, April 6, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, April 5, 2017

This video from HR West 2017 speaker Kevin Sheridan explores a third category of employee engagement: The Actively Disengaged.

Did you know? Thirteen percent of the workforce is actively disengaged - they are workplace vampires.

Discover the successful solution that can transform these "workplace terrorists" into productive and "actively engaged" members of your team in Sheridan's 2 minute (highly informative) video:

Tags:  company culture  employee  employee engagement  Engagement  HR Management  Managing Employees  millennial-retention  workplace performance 

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What Being Kidnapped as a Child Taught Me about Culture

Posted By Editor, Laurie, Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Updated: Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Contributed by Kevin Sheridan, Author, Speaker, Consultant, Chief Engagement Officer, Kevin Sheridan, LLC

Building a Magnetic Culture March 6th - 1:30p

A few years ago, the famous dictionary producer Merriam-Webster named culture as the “Word of the Year.” I am sure most experts on Employee Engagement were not surprised by Merriam-Webster’s choice. Indeed, legendary management expert Peter Drucker was one of the first to get it right years ago when he coined the phrase, “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast.” While Drucker first said this decades ago, the words still ring very true in today’s business environment and workplace landscape. His seminal point in making this statement was that all of a company’s efforts on strategy will fall flat if the company culture is not sound and in alignment with its purpose and people. Likewise, if job candidates aren’t as careful about assessing the culture of their potential new employer, they will mistakenly choose the wrong new employer and quickly find themselves in job search “transition” mode again.

I learned a difficult lesson on culture when I was just a child. At age 10 and living with my mother and three sisters, I was illegally kidnapped by my father and brought from a lily-white Chicago suburb to an American Indian reservation in Northern Wisconsin. Neither my Father nor any of my new family members were American Indian; they simply lived on the reservation’s land. Since state laws differ about how to handle child custody cases and additional laws exist to protect Indian reservations and their inhabitants, the pending criminal charges against my Dad were soon dropped and my sisters and I found ourselves stuck in a cultural environment that felt like another planet. I was sent to a nearly-all Chippewa Indian grade school, where I quickly learned that my skin color had become my own cultural “baggage.”

As one of the only Caucasian students enrolled in the elementary tribal school, I was regularly beaten up solely because of my skin color. Recess was guaranteed torture.

I used to spend this playtime hiding under a truck in a tucked-away garage at the end of my elementary school’s property. I started intentionally failing my math class so I was “forced” to stay inside with a tutor instead of playing outside with the other kids.

So I made a conscious effort to assimilate to my new culture, learning and adapting as best I could. I found ways to diffuse the bullies, effective only some of the time.

I learned some of the Chippewa language. I danced in the Pow Wow for the white tourists who would come to “see the Indians,” with many of them believing I was a little Indian boy. Most of all, I persevered.

I share this story because, sadly, it’s similar to what many employees experience when they start a new job.

Culture can either make people feel included or feel like the odd one out.

A major difference with my story and the search for a new job is that candidates have a choice in their new culture, whereas I did not. Most organizations strive to uphold a positive, welcoming culture (or at least a culture that isn’t abusive), but not all are successful. That’s why it’s smart to get a great understanding of an organization’s culture before accepting a new job.

Before interviewing for a new job, people should think about what company culture means to them. What’s most important? There are a range of things to consider: values, ethics, ambitions, workplace environment or “feel,” diversity and inclusion, encouragement of fun and levity, dress code, workplace flexibility stances, trust, and much more.

All of these cultural elements put together become an amalgam that I call the Invisible Corporate DNA of an organization. You cannot easily see it, but it is there.

London School of Economics Professor Sumantra Ghosal, coined it “The Smell of the Place” in his brilliant speech at the World Economic Forum.

He describes “The Smell of the Place” as the context (culture) with which leaders choose to surround their employees that will drive the behaviors and success of the organization. Ghosal uses the wonderful metaphor of choosing either the smell of Calcutta India in July where he grew up (not so good), versus the wonderful aroma of the Forest of Fontainebleau where he lived later in life. Its message especially resonated with me because of the moldy and dank smell of our tribal school, which I’ll never forget.

Smart interview candidates can also take additional steps to make an organization’s invisible culture visible.

You can start by finding former employees on LinkedIn and asking them to describe the culture of their old employer. Furthermore, you should make it a point to ask very pointed questions of the interviewers about the culture of the company, such as:

  • Please give me three words that best define the culture here.
  • Does the company have stated values and a code of ethics?
    Tell me more about them with specific examples of how they helped guide and guard the organization and its employees.
  • What is the company’s attitude toward workplace flexibility, more specifically, flexible work hours, dress code, etc?
  • What Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts does your organization have in place? Specifically, how does it “give back” to the communities in which it operates?
  • What efforts are in place to encourage fun and levity in your work place?
  • What programs do you have that support the importance of diversity and inclusion here?
  • Please share with me specifically how and when employees are recognized for doing great work.
  • How often are managers expected to meet with their direct reports to discuss their career development and next career steps?
  • How does your organization handle conflicts? Is there a specific problem-solving procedure in place and if so, does it encourage or discourage going above “the chain of command” or to the Human Resources department?

Also, make sure you look for signs during the interview process that clearly show that the company’s stated culture is not a reality (e.g., the company says it cares about environmental greenness, yet its facilities are littered with plastic water bottles, which take up landfill space for an eternity.) In short, be a keen observer.

After the interviews, ask yourself questions like:

  • Were there any phrases or words used that would give a true peek into the organization’s real culture?
  • Was there an implicit unspoken “tone” to the questions asked?
  • How did the workplace environment feel?
  • Was I treated and welcomed like a possible new team member or as a foreigner under suspicion?
  • Was “The Golden Rule” exhibited by my interviewers (i.e., Did they treat me the way they would want to be treated, showing mutual respect and professional courtesy?

What my siblings and I went through on that Indian reservation was certainly tough. But it was also immensely invaluable. When faced with the choice of “woe is me” and victim-hood, I chose to embrace the positive and the learning opportunities. I chose to recognize that, as a white male, I was blessed with having the unique experience of knowing what it is like to be a minority. (I also realized that what bullying and persecution we had gone through paled in comparison to what the Native American Nation experienced at the hands of the Europeans who invaded and took over their land and country.)

I chose to share my unique experience in my application to Harvard Business School (HBS).

Of the roughly 12,000 applications sent to HBS that year, mine was one of the less than 1% accepted. I’ve always expected this result was tied to my unusual upbringing.

In the end, for many reasons, being kidnapped and working through an entirely different culture on the reservation, was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I cherish the loving relationship I now have with both my 81-year-old mother and father. Despite an occasional and normal familial challenge, our families have cherished a culture of love, understanding, and accomplishment.

As a new employee, becoming immersed in a dysfunctional company culture can certainly build character, but that’s not what people are usually seeking in a new job.

If you want to feel happy, comfortable, secure, valued, and avoid unnecessary stress, taking a hard look at culture is your smartest option.

If you currently find yourself in a culture that’s not up to your standards, don’t despair.

One of my favorite sayings of all time comes from the movie The Exotic Marigold Hotel: “In India, we have a saying: 'Everything will be alright in the end.' So if it’s not alright, it is not yet the end.”


Kevin Sheridan has spent thirty years as a high-level Human Capital Management consultant. He has helped some of the world’s largest corporations break down detrimental processes and rebuild a culture that fosters productive engagement, earning him several distinctive awards and honors in the process. Kevin’s premier creation, PEER®, is consistently recognized as a long overdue, industry-changing innovation in the field of Employee Engagement, and his most recent book, “Building a Magnetic Culture,” made the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today best-seller lists.



using code SPKRHRWEST to receive a $100 discount.

Meet up with Kevin, at his session: Building a Magnetic Culture March 6th - 1:30p

Tags:  company culture  culture  employee engagement  Employee retention 

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Orchestrating Excellence: Leadership Agility through Music

Posted By Laurie A. Pehar Borsh, Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Contributed by Gary Muszynski
Gary Muszynski, Chief Orchestrator, Orchestrating Excellence
Register today
Gary will present:  Leadership Agility Through Music: Orchestrate, Collaborate and Improvise!
HR West 2017  Wednesday, March 8th 9am

Music represents a comprehensive view of different leadership styles. Given the pace of change and the complexity and ambiguity of modern life, it’s important to be able to flex your leadership style based on the context and situation.  

Music holds some secrets for doing just that.

In classical music, for example, there’s a conductor who leads through acts of orchestration, selecting talent, directing and inspiring at scale.
In world of folk music, the melody and rhythms emerge from the collective ensemble, from interdependent interlocking parts--similar to a collaborative team conversation.

And in jazz, there’s a focus on being able to adapt and change, riff, and innovate in the moment, to shift between soloing and providing support for other talents to shine.
To do so requires embodied presence, awareness, and discipline, the kinds of skills that are useful for acting in the face of uncertainty and without a guaranteed outcome.

Combined as a flexible palette of leadership styles, orchestration, collaboration, and improvisation can be used in a variety of situations to produce different impacts at the enterprise, team, and individual levels. (See chart below.)

Strengths vs. range. The idea of stretching your leadership style to maximize your effectiveness as a leader does not negate the current trend toward understanding and making the most of your personal and professional strengths. Both viewpoints have their relative merits. For example, if a leader is not adept at facilitating certain team conversations, he or she can invest in a coach to help them develop this key skill, and/or, they can enlist the help of one of their team members to do so instead. Oftentimes, these two different solutions occur simultaneously. One is a longer developmental solution; the other a shorter term one.

Why not just stick with our preferred style for leading and communicating? Think of an actor who is good at a specific role? Perhaps they are typecast cast as a strong, silent type, and adventure action hero, or a damsel in distress. Life and leadership calls us to develop a wider range of skills and responses than just our preferred style.  And, moving into these knew roles might seems uncomfortable or scary at times as it brings up issues around competence and not being in complete control.  Think of engineers who are
learning to become new mangers for the first time and may lack some of the social skills needed to thrive in a new role.

As a theatre Improv friend recently reminded me, we need to all get more comfortable with being uncomfortable.

And this leadership agility framework is intended to help in exploring a range of ways to respond based on context and intended impact.

Please take this out for a trial run!

When should you use one of these leadership styles over another? 
There’s no exact formula but here are some guidelines: 

1. Orchestrated leadership (organization = orchestra)

Context: This style of leadership is most appropriate for beginning a new initiative, at the start of a reorganization, in preparing for or navigating an acquisition or merger, when speaking to a larger group (more than 20 people), selecting talent and building a team, clarifying strategy and direction, or fine-tuning implementation. You’ll need to balance task and relationships here to ensure precise outcomes as well as creating a positive environment to maximize and sustain engagement and creativity.  Think of your role as an executive producer. You goal is not to micromanage your team, but to encourage, inspire, delegate, build trust, and let go. Your focus should be on managing your energy, attitude, and presence as these things speak louder than just words alone. Your intention and how you show up as a leader and treat others need to be aligned.

Goals: Conduct and inspire talent across silos; create team integration and cohesion. 

Actions: Direct, inspire, align, and harmonize talent.


  • Clarify your intention
  • Share compelling stories
  • Set the stage context and tone for your leadership
  • Articulate a clear vision and measures for success (qualitative and quantitative)
  • Find ways to creatively engage your people (involve head, heart and the body in learning)

Key principles:

  • Meet your team where they are and lead them somewhere new.
  • Step back to get a broader perspective as if you were in fact a conductor: is your extended team or organization making music or noise? Gather insight from different internal and external stakeholder groups to ensure that your perspective is grounded in qualitative data (i.e., stories) as well as qualitative data (key success measures).
  • Being a strong leader in this style does not mean being autocratic (command-and-control) nor does it mean only offering feel-good assessments and feedback. Have the fierce conversations you need to have one on one but from a place of respect, directness, and compassion. Be willing to be vulnerable and transparent.

2. Collaborative leadership (team = ensemble)

Context: This style of leadership is most appropriate at the team level. Your goal at this level is to facilitate and coach rather than to direct.  This means that you are empowering others and helping them to develop their thinking and effectiveness. This requires more time and patience and it is more effective then simply providing the answer. Given the complexity we’re surrounded by, leaders need to engage thinking at the team level to meet our most complex challenges. Mastering the art of collaborative conversations is an important set of skills. Adopt one or two processes as a framework for moving a team from high level thinking to tactics, from the global to the granular.

Goals: Develop and empower your team to think critically and creatively.

Actions: Connecting, synchronizing, and co-creating; facilitating and coaching.


  • Ask powerful questions that challenge people see things from different perspectives.
  • Use a framework to make sure that your team moves through different conversations for comprehensive planning and collective learning.
  • Make sure that your team is as diverse as possible (cognitive, cultural, functional, level, gender, age, seniority, introversion and extroversion, etc.) to ensure that you get a broad range of perspectives and ideas.

Additional notes:

  • Encourage and accept different viewpoints rather than groupthink
  • Make it safe for people to express divergent views
  • Recent research at Goggle about what makes teams most effective points to two indicators:
  • The ability of the team to maximize diversity, and
  •  The team’s ability to tolerate candid, direct, and honest conversations while maintaining an environment of trust, openness, and emotional safety (no shaming, blaming, or recriminations) – i.e., psychological safety. 

3.  Improvisational leadership (individual = soloist)

Context: Unlike “orchestrative leadership” which focuses on impacts at the larger group and organizational levels or collaborative leadership which looks at how to be effective at the team level, improvisational leadership concerns itself with how an individual leader reacts in moments of change, stress, conflict, ambiguity, and complexity.  The focus here is on excellent self-care, emotional regulation, resilience, and developing the ability to pause and shift when you get triggered to ensure you regain your center.  These skills are ones that are cultivated and practiced in the martial arts, yoga, scientific inquiry, mindfulness and mediation, active listening, improvisational theatre, and music.   

A reminder that the brain likes certainty, predictability and safety. A natural reaction when there is a breakdown of a group’s communication or individual performance is to assign blame or verbally attack someone.  While this is an understandable human reaction, it is not an effective move as a leader.  Regain your emotional center so that your feedback or communication can be neutral, begins with a positive context, and is based on observable facts, so that the person on the other end can “hear” and “digest” your remarks. Remember that you need to find your own ground, before you can create common ground with others especially in fast paced environments that place greater emphasis on speed rather than effectiveness or impact.

Goal: Remaining effective in the face of change and ambiguity

Skills (When you notice yourself getting triggered by a person or events)

  • ·      Pausing and shifting
  • ·      Reframing challenges as learning opportunities
  • ·      Shifting from moods of resentment, resignation, and reactivity to ones that engender curiosity, proactivity, and positivity
  • ·      Cultivating compassion for self and others

Actions: Adapting and changing, delighting and surprising

The Process:

  • Trusting your intuition (gut).
  • Delaying action until you feel an inner alignment of head, heart, and gut.
  • Wait until you are not in a very triggered state before communicating with the apparent cause of your reaction.
  • Check out your assumptions; know your biases.
  • Consider how you have contributed to the breakdown before simply assigning blame.
  • Build up the capacity to think on your feet by riffing often (thinking out loud with others) and by adopting a playful rather than a perfectionistic mindset.

Additional notes: Under stress, your mind may tell you that only two polarized options exist.  This is called Either/or (binary) thinking.  Improvisational leaders can think on their feet to create yes/and solutions through an act of inclusion, courage, and creativity. Be curious about a third alternative and continue the conversation until one pops up. The skills of riffing, noodling, and playing prime the deeper parts of the midbrain associated with non-linear creativity, the heart of emergent thinking.

Questions for reflection

How will you improvise when the unforeseen comes to visit?


Based on the description of the three leadership styles in this blog, where do you believe you are at your strongest?  
Which style is most challenging for you and why?

Let me know what you think!

Gary Muzynski is an organizational development consultant influenced by neurological research and how it can be applied to learning, collaboration and creativity. He is also the founder of Orchestrating Excellence, a global team building and leadership development firm that leverages the power of play for workplace change, employee engagement and innovation.

Gary works with companies such as Pixar, Genentech, Kaiser Permanente, Electronic Arts, Bank of America, McKesson, HopeLab, and Xerox PARC, and has presented immersive learning programs and interactive keynotes for Fast Company, Apple University, and the Stanford Graduate School of Business.



Remember to catch up with Gary at HW West 2017

Tags:  business transformation  creative keynotes  creative team building  creativity and innovation training  culture change and experiential learning  employee engagement  immersive learning  Leadership agility  leadership and music  leadership development  leadership through music 

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End the Year on a Grateful, Not Hateful, Note

Posted By Editor, Laurie, Thursday, December 22, 2016

Contributed by Michael Papay
The CEO and cofounder of Waggl will present his session,
The Power of Listening, at

March 6-8, 2017 - Register today

End the Year on a Grateful, Not Hateful, Note

Let’s be honest: 2016 has been a heavy year. For starters, we lost several admired cultural icons (David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, and Sharon Jones,
to name just a few). We also experienced what is widely regarded as one of the most contentious and divisive elections in history.

No matter what political side you found yourself on, you would have to agree that the negativity has seeped into even our most sacred spaces and taken an
emotional toll on most Americans.

Take a look at social media networks, which have morphed from safe places to exchange experiences and pleasantries into cesspools of anger and vitriol.
Our relationships have been strained. Turn on any news channel, and you can practically feel the toxicity pour into your living room.
Attend a local debate or any kind of gathering to see just how fractured our communities have become.

We now find ourselves in a holiday season meant to help us reflect, recharge, and celebrate new beginnings. We kicked things off with Thanksgiving –
my favorite holiday, because it revolves around the granddaddy of all meals, and more importantly, offers a time when we can reconnect with loved ones
and express our gratitude for our family, friendships, health, and freedom. Then came the Winter Solstice, and now, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa
are right around the corner. All of these holidays offer us the opportunity to reconnect spiritually and experience the magic of giving.

Finally, we end our holiday season with New Year’s Day, a time when we can reset our dreams and create goals designed to take us to new and exciting places.

We have the next two weeks to let gratitude, giving, and goals guide us back to feeling like human beings again. This is a noble opportunity. Let’s not waste it.
We can use this focus at home and at work.

My company, Waggl, offers a solution designed to help organizations pulse questions and create two-way dialogues with their employees. We are fortunate to have the opportunity each and every day to learn from our customers, who value their employees as their most important stakeholders and are actively and transparently
managing their organizations to create amazing workplaces.

Think of a Work Experience That Made You Feel Grateful

armsWaggl utilizes short questions (“pulses”) that you send out to employees.
Last week, one of our clients offered a simple and actionable question to help set a positive and impactful tone in their workplace:

“Think of a time when you experienced an interaction with a colleague or client that made you feel grateful to be part of the family. Please share your story.”

This pulse was received like water in the desert and resulted in one of the highest response rates ever at that particular company.

We have since shared this Waggl question with all of our customers and the results have been uplifting.

The opportunity for employees to share their stories has helped people realize that within all of our companies and communities, incredible acts of kindness and decency happen each and every day.

Too often, good news goes uncelebrated. We’re busy closing out fiscal years. We’re running from meeting to meeting.
Who has time to find the silver lining when it feels like we’re always under a cloud?

When we get caught up in measuring things through polls and surveys, we forget that there are people behind those numbers – people with incredible insights to share and stories that can resonate with us in many meaningful ways. Clear narratives cut through the distraction that is everywhere in our daily lives. Coupled with techniques like “appreciative inquiry,” which focuses the discussion on celebrating the positive instead of wallowing in the negative, these narratives can re-inspire all of us.

Carry It Forward

We can spend the next couple of weeks rebuilding together by listening to one another and celebrating all the positive things we are achieving. We are blessed to live in a country that is built on centuries of sacrifice and grit. Our economy thrives as a result of its incredible diversity. Throughout most of business history, the best companies and ideas have come from those with opposing viewpoints.

This year, instead of hitting your employees with another 60-question survey that will take months to process, ask one question that will have immediate, meaningful impact.
It won’t solve all of the world’s problems, but it’s a wonderful place to start.

After all, according to Marcus Tullius Cicero, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”  
A version of this article originally appeared on Waggl’s blog.

Michael Papay is CEO and cofounder of Waggl, a real-time feedback platform that helps organizations source authentic feedback.

Tags:  employee engagement  HR West 2017  Listening skills  Michael Papay  Power of Listening  waggl 

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Connecting People and Purpose: 7 Ways High-Trust Organizations Retain Talent

Posted By Administration, Saturday, September 24, 2016
Updated: Saturday, September 24, 2016

Contributed by




Meet Jessica Rohman, Director of Content, Great Place to Work® at the NCHRA Engagement & Recognition Conference on Wednesday, September 28th at Golden Gate University. Jessica will present "Engaging and Retaining Your Future Workforce" (first session, 8:30am).

>> Read more and register here. 

Discover strategies for achieving true employee engagement and a successful recognition program! #NCHRAEngage 

Great Place to Work® has crafted its perspective by learning from great leaders, surveying millions of employees, and examining thousands of the best workplaces around the globe. The company thrives on sharing the insights they've gleaned from their work with companies of all industries and sizes in order to help organizations around the world build, sustain and scale their great culture. Here are highlights from the 2016 Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For® report (white paper) -- seven ways high-trust organizations retain talent. 


It’s easy to understand the difference your actions make in the world if you are the president of an organization, or a nurse who is saving patients’ lives. It can be more difficult to make that connection from the factory floor, behind a cash register, or even from a computer screen.Therefore, it’s critical that leaders and managers clearly define the overarching purpose of the company in the world, and just as importantly, connect each employee to their specific role in driving it forward through their work. This way, no matter where a person sits in the organization, they know that their actions play a role in the broader fate of the company, and ultimately, in the world at large.

Increasingly, highly-evolved workplaces and leaders are coming to understand that tapping into the collective knowledge of an organization is the key to success. Unlike the command-and-control ethos that has traditionally characterized many organiza-
tions, more and more of today’s CEOs are incorporating openness, transparency and employee empowerment into their workplace cultures. 

Nothing shows an employee more clearly that they make a difference to the company than the authentic desire, on the part of leaders, to actively seek their ideas. As such, leaders at great workplaces work tirelessly to stay connected to employees in all parts of the company, including on the very front lines. And, at the core of this behavior is the belief that employees have something valuable to say. By giving employees multiple avenues to share their ideas, questions, and concerns, leaders only amplify the message that staffers are an important part of the company’s success.

In many organizations, only a small percentage of employees actually work directly with the company’s client base. However, establishing the link between an employee’s work—regardless of where they sit—and the final impact it has on the end customer can be powerful in creating a sense of purpose. Examples of ways to make this connection include:
> Internal communication campaigns that inspire pride in employees – including mentions of where their products are showing up
in the press, sales numbers, and more.
> Site visits to retail stores or customer locations.
> Incorporating customer stories and feedback into corporate communications.
> Bringing customers/patients onsite to talk about the impact the company’s products or services have in their lives.

Many of the Best Companies across industries create opportunities for employees to interact directly with the customers/users of their services.

Working with a group of strangers is one thing; collaborating with a valued community is a completely different proposition. A universal quality of great workplaces is the strong sense of family and team experienced by employees across the organization. In fact, at this year’s 100 Best Companies to Work For®, nearly 9 in 10 employees report: There is a “family” or “team” feeling here.  
Building a close community with colleagues only furthers work as more than “just a job.” And, when the going gets tough, these relationships can be critical touchstones for employees in making their days more enjoyable—creating another reason to ride out difficult times with the company rather than jump ship for another opportunity.

Whether it’s via birthday or anniversary celebrations, a personal thank you card, kudos at a staff meeting, or a high-class celebratory gala, the recognition and appreciation of employees is important to the understanding that they—as a person and as an employee—make a difference to the company. “One of the most powerful ways to help people understand that they are making a difference at your company is by recognizing them for their contributions,” says Great Place to Work® Partner, Anil Saxena.

One of the greatest strengths across the 100 Best Companies to Work For® is a strong commitment to volunteerism and philanthropy. Not only are employees involved in these efforts in a very hands-on way, but volunteer opportunities are woven into the employer brand and the employee value proposition. This way, all employees have an opportunity to feel that because they are a part of their company, they are able to contribute to their community in a meaningful way. (See sidebar: Clif Bar on white paper* detail.)

Click here to read *the complete white paper....


Tags:  employee engagement  employee recognition  employee retention  Engagement & Recognition Conference  Great Place to Work 

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