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Employee Engagement: Was My Rental Car Asking Me Out on a Date?

A lesson about taking breaks from a creepy Mercedes.

Attention Assist Mercedes

My wife and I were driving from Ephesus in Turkey to Konya. This is a long drive and my wife had fallen asleep. Suddenly while she was sleeping my rental Mercedes Benz dashboard displayed a coffee cup.

I was concerned. Was the rental car being forward and should I accept the cup of coffee and what would my wife think? When Susan awoke I showed her how forward the car had become and we both tried to figure it out. It was not helpful that the manual was in Turkish and German.

When we pulled over for gas I did a Google search and found out that while I was watching the car the car was watching me. The coffee cup was not a request for a date but a warning based on a number of factors that I might be getting sleepy.

The tiredness recognition component assesses parameters such as speed, longitudinal/lateral acceleration, steering wheel angle, indicator and pedal usage, as well as specific operations and external influences such as crosswinds and the unevenness of the road. A particularly transparent sign of tiredness is steering behaviour: fatigued drivers are typically identified by steering wheel movements that require constant correction. The Mercedes assist system registers steering behaviour changes and, if necessary, looks for other signs of fatigue. It warns the driver at an early stage using a warning signal,and the instrument cluster displays a symbol and text with the unambiguous message: ATTENTION ASSIST: Break! The system is active between 80 km/h and 180 km/h.

Here is the lesson for employee engagement. Engagement can be fuelled by coffee but we should offer encouragement and triggers for people working too many hours in a row to take breaks.

Caroline Webb writing in the February 2016 McKinsey Quarterly talked about how small shifts in leadership can transform your team dynamic.  She profiled Antony the head of a successful technology consultancy that focuses on getting the most from breaks and encouraging breaks for better work. His company did a lot to ensure people took breaks and even transformed  the leadership mantra of “leading by example” to “leaving by example.”

The company’s work on breaks helped overcome the culture of ‘presenteeism’ where people looked like they were always working but there were not necessarily working well.

In our race for more employee engagement and greater discretionary effort let us not lose sight of the importance of taking breaks to achieve results while also installing wellbeing. Perhaps McDonald’s was right all along, “you deserve a break today!”

David Zinger is an employee engagement expert and speaker who has always loved Mercedes Benz cars since his father owned a 1963 cherry red 190SE. Until having a rental Mercedes Benz in Turkey, David never realized that Mercedes Benz cars might also love him and ask him out for coffee.

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