Why Today is a Special Day in Employee Engagement….

Today marks a special day in employee engagement. It is an historic day. Like much in employee engagement there are lessons to be learned from today’s anniversary.

What day am I talking about?

Well, on 14th November, 1899, Lever brothers (which merged in 1930 to form Unilever), launched the first employee “Suggestion Box.” Heads of their works departments and managers decided that “one of the drawbacks of a business so large as ours was the fact that it was utterly impossible for the heads of the firm to know and meet every employee in the ordinary course of business.”

The suggestion box was essentially for improving “Efficiency, Economy, and Comfort” for the employees, and Lever was praised for creating a radical and “democratic idea.”  Employee proposals were published in Lever’s company-sponsored magazine called Progress and prizes awarded for the best suggestions,  with £3 for first place to 10 shillings for third place.

Progress magazine was quite a departure too, in these early days of magazines, with management recognizing that the company lacked personal contact being a large enterprise. Management stated that the introduction of Progress extended “a hearty hand-shake to all members of our staff,” and bring “you into contact with ourselves and with each other.”

Has much changed in over 100 years? Can your company be proud of its employee engagement on this 14th November? Good question.

All too often employees remain ill-communicated to, and the tools in use are more broadcast than engagement. All too often the internal communications staff are headed at a more junior level than the external relations functions. Employees are always held up as important in principle, but this doesn’t always carry over into pratice or budgets. Many companies do well at internal communications and strive for improvement, but there are more imaginative ways to enter into dialog with your employees in the 21st Century, there’s no need to use 19th Century approaches.

On this 14th November, look for a moment at your internal communications function, tools and the resources dedicated to it and ask how far you has your company come to engage employees effectively? Look beyond the rhetoric and ask people on the shopfloor or by the water-cooler what they honestly think of how they are engaged.

The answers might surprise you, and hopefully inspire you to do even better!

Progress Magazine, launched by Lever Bros in 1899, still going strong in 1932 after the merger created Unilever


2 thoughts on “Why Today is a Special Day in Employee Engagement….

    • Good question Chris! I wrote to them about the blog, so we’ll see if they want to add some comments here! Their internal comms & HR teams should be marking this day in Unilver!

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