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What Google Employees Can Teach Us About Memes and Employee Burnout

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The average millennial views a staggering 20-30 memes every day, so it’s unsurprising that companies quickly got into the mix. As more brands use memes to connect with customers, a new business case is on the rise: memes are a valuable and underutilized way for companies to communicate with their employees.

From weaving them into internal meetings to sprinkling them into company-wide newsletters, memes can do more than make people laugh. When deployed strategically, memes are tools companies can use to build a stronger and healthier culture, democratize feedback channels and even support employees’ mental health.

Related: 9 Ways Memes Can Rev Up Your Business Marketing

1. Strengthen company culture

The beauty of memes, including those shared on platforms like Yepp, is that they allow people to connect over shared experiences and see the light and humor in difficult situations. These aspects also make them a fantastic tool for community building in this era of remote work, where 8 in 10 US employees work in either a hybrid or fully remote work environment.

With after-work drinks, impromptu water cooler chat and the nuances of non-verbal and in-person communication no longer helping shape colleague interactions and culture, it has become all the more important to find new ways to foster a sense of organizational belonging among employees that don’t see each other on the daily.

Some of the world’s largest companies, including Google, are already reaping the benefits of integrating memes into their internal communications, having gone so far as to create dedicated internal platforms through which employees can create and share memes. Allowing employees to poke gentle fun at everything, from the quirks of internal processes to a shared complacency over corporate work perks, helps people feel as though they belong to something larger than the hub they work in and share and discover commonalities that aren’t restricted by geography. As Gen Z continues to enter the workforce, memes are an increasingly important tool for connecting with younger employees.

Memes humanize colleagues. Of course, professionalism is still important, but there is real cultural value in channels where teams can form connections with each other through humor. When used judiciously, memes help us acknowledge and lighten a load of stressful situations, and when teams better understand each other, it improves both output and morale.

As companies grow and mature, they also develop their own internal language, often cryptic to those unfamiliar with it. We see companies increasingly replacing Three Letter Acronyms (TLAs) with memes, understood by or having a specific context to employees. This makes memes a powerful tool for onboarding, helping to explain how things are done in that particular company.

2. Detect employee burnout

Memes can also be used as a powerful tool for detecting employee burnout. In a corporate environment, where workers often feel uncomfortable speaking up on sensitive issues such as the difficult personal circumstances they are going through or the overwhelming workload they face, memes can serve as a bridge to help employers more easily broach these topics with employees.

At FunCorp, where I serve as Group CEO, we have already integrated memes into our HR processes to help identify the broader team mood, catch any possible internal conflicts, and spot burnout at early stages among employees. Ahead of meetings, our Human Resources department will share a selection of memes portraying different emotional states and ask employees to select the memes they feel best to encapsulate their mood for that week. If they don’t think that any apply, they can also choose or make their own meme to submit.

Team members then discuss the reasons for their chosen memes, opening the floor for discussion on how to remedy any underlying issues that could be causing problems. Exercises like these help to not only unite the team but also legitimize employees’ feelings and build trust within the workplace – vital ingredients for business success.

3. Provide feedback to top management

Memes have a unique ability to so accurately capture and articulate moods, reactions, or unspoken thoughts that would be uncomfortable addressing in person, making them a valuable tool for delivering feedback to top management.

Google parent company Alphabet’s recent callout asking employees to begin sharing desks amid office downsizing, for example, led to swathes of employee activity within their internal meme platform Memegen. Taking aim at the “corpspeak” used by senior executives, one popular meme shared by staff read, “Not every cost cutting measure needs to be good for employees. A simple ‘We are cutting office space to reduce costs’ would make leadership sound more believable”.

The company’s rushed release of ChatGPT competitor Bard received an equally frosty reception, with one employee receiving many upvotes for a post that read, “Dear Sundar, the Bard launch and the layoffs were rushed, botched, and myopic. Please return to taking a long-term outlook.”

Were it not for memes being so integrated into the company’s internal communications, these messages would unlikely reach top management in such a direct fashion. In cases like these, memes help democratize feedback channels and act as a sounding board for management decisions. Initiatives like this can be particularly valuable in cultures where directly questioning management decisions in person may be negatively perceived.

Using tools like memes can help remove the personal conflict and confidence barrier that could otherwise prevent an innovative solution or critical, business-saving feedback from being raised.

Related: Did the Market Overreact to Google’s Bard AI Presentation?

4. Bring joy to internal communications

Who likes sitting through 30-page presentations and listening to a speaker drone on in monotone about the company’s latest business developments? The answer: no one. Memes can be a fun and effective way to spice up internal company communications by injecting humor, creativity and relatability into otherwise mundane messages.

Beyond simply providing laughs, however, memes can also help with knowledge retention. Research reveals that humor systematically activates the brain’s dopamine reward system, with cognitive studies demonstrating that dopamine is important for both goal-oriented motivations and long-term memory. Incorporating memes into company presentations can add laughs while enabling employees to better retain any information shared.

5. Improve employees’ mental health

While research on this front remains in the early stages, several studies have already been released in support of the theory that memes can help people to boost their mood and better withstand the daily stressors of everyday life.

One of the largest of these studies, undertaken during the Covid-19 pandemic by researchers at Penn State, revealed that individuals who viewed memes with Covid-19-related captions reported lower levels of COVID-related stress than those who saw a non-COVID caption, proving the value of memes in boosting positive emotions.

Incorporating memes into your corporate processes could help boost employees’ mood and overall team morale, or as I like to refer to it – “a meme a day could keep the exit interview away.”

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