What Your Company’s Dirty Dishes Can Tell You About Your Team’s Engagement Level

A company’s culture is not the image it projects to the outside world — it’s the way its values, beliefs, attitudes, and traditions affect the behavior of its members.

Having worked in several settings throughout my career, I’ve found that a single question can tell you a lot about a company’s culture and the engagement level of its employees.

Who loads and empties the dishwasher?

It might sound like a small thing. But, when it comes to culture, it’s the small details surrounding peoples’ interactions with each other and their environment that matter.

More than sweeping proclamations or words emblazoned on the wall, who loads and empties the dishwasher can indicate how engaged employees really are.

Consider the following scenarios:

  1. It just gets done. In some workplaces, you don’t hear much about who loads and empties the dishwasher, because it just happens. For the most part, people take care of their own dishes. If someone sees that dishes need to be loaded or emptied, they do it, without fanfare or complaint.
  2. It gets done, with drama. In other workplaces, the dishwasher gets loaded and emptied, but the whole thing is accompanied by drama. Maybe the task always seems to fall to a specific person, who adopts a victim-like attitude about it. Maybe there’s a formal rotation or a “policy” that’s been published in an attempt to spread out the responsibility. There may even be passive aggressive notes involved.
  3. It gets outsourced. Finally, there are workplaces where employees can’t be bothered to do something like load or empty the dishwasher, so the responsibility is outsourced to a cleaning service. People leave their dishes in the sink (or wherever) without a second thought because they know it’ll get taken care of by someone else.

If employee engagement is a measure of team members’ emotional commitment to and pride in where they work, which of the above scenarios do you think indicates an engaged workforce?

It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?

In a truly engaged culture, things like loading and emptying the dishwasher just get done. Enough people care enough: about each other and their environment.

Engagement surveys can be valuable tools for gathering rich data and analyzing trends over time. But if you want to get a quick pulse on your culture, ask yourself one question: who loads and empties the dishwasher?