Employee Engagement; where to start?Posted in : HR Updates on 3 September 2019
In this month’s article Olga Pollock, HR Manager at Firmus Energy, discusses the Employee Engagement journey – commencing with setting the objective for engagement and outlining methods to achieving this.
Organisations have different approaches to employee engagement. Some are at the forefront of creating environments which tap into employees’ intrinsic drive to succeed to the benefit of both themselves and their employer. Other organisations may not yet recognise the value in engagement and focus on profit alone, at any cost. Others may only be at the start of their engagement journey; they recognise the value in it but are not sure where to start.
It is first useful to consider what employee engagement is. According to the UK’s voluntary ‘Engage for Success’ movement, employee engagement is about creating workplaces where employees want and are able to give their best every day and the success of an organisation is dependant upon the commitment, energy and creativity of the people that work there. Research carried out by Engage for Success demonstrates a firm correlation between employee engagement and high organisational productivity and performance - across all sectors of the economy.
So, before we even think about putting an engagement strategy in place, we need to decide as a business why we are interested in promoting it in the first place. Is it a tick box exercise to fulfil the requirements of an external audit or simply something that the HR department think is a good idea? In either case, any efforts to drive employee engagement is likely to fail as people will quickly see through this as a fad and become disillusioned.
Engagement needs a genuine commitment from the top to make your organisation a better place to work. It needs buy-in from every member of the Senior Management team down so that any efforts put in place are understood and agreed. In other words, it is necessary to agree an outcome i.e. what type of organisation do we want to be? This may be something like, ‘We aspire to be an organisation where people want to come to work every day to give their best and are committed to the success and vision of the organisation’. Whatever this looks like, it is important that it is agreed collectively between management and staff. Great employers will consult both to determine what this outcome is.
Once the outcome is agreed there needs to be some mechanism in place for determining how far off this aspiration the organisation actually is. This may be through a staff survey or focus groups which will have the benefit of establishing a baseline upon which future engagement levels can be measured against. But the main purpose of such interventions is to give employees a voice which is in fact one of the four enablers of employee engagement - as identified by Engage for Success.
My personal preference is focus groups. Surveys are impersonal and can have a number of drawbacks as discussed in my earlier article, ‘The annual engagement survey; is our really finger on the pulse?’. Focus groups, on the other hand allow for a much more enriching experience and provide the opportunity for debate, clarification and two-way interaction. It is important that focus groups are open to all staff on a voluntary basis and that they are representative of the entire workforce as opposed to a select few.
The aim of the focus group sessions is to ask employees, what would make your organisation a better place to be? Remind them of the engagement outcome, which if agreed in part by them, will have better commitment from the outset as opposed to being ‘imposed’ on them. Be honest. Admit that as an organisation, you know that you’re not there yet but that you aspire to be an place where people want to come to work every day to give their best and are committed to the success and vision of the organisation. Then ask them how to get there. Start off by exploring all the things that are working well as an organisation. Then start to look at the what’s not going well and what needs to happen in order to become a great place to work. The tone at the start of the session should be set. Staff should be told that this is an open discussion, where people are free to talk with no risk of reprisals. Often focus groups work better at employee level without management presence but this will depend on the culture of your organisation so is worth bearing in mind.
If this is your first attempt at giving staff a communication platform then it is worth noting that any feedback provided is likely to sting! Resentments and frustrations built up over many years will likely come flooding out and may include everything from complaints about the office temperature to more serious issues such as low pay, poor training or lack of trust. Whatever the issues, it is important to listen, to let people have their say and then to move towards solutions and suggestions on how to fix them. Therefore the investment from Senior Management is essential from the outset as once the floodgates are open, there’s no going back!
It is also important to be prepared that some of the issues raised may be very emotive and perhaps unlikely to be a ‘quick fix’. This is where the ‘parking lot’ comes in useful where these types of concerns can be ‘parked’ with a view to come back to at a later stage.
Once the first round of focus groups has been undertaken, these suggestions will need to be reviewed with management and actions agreed. There will be things that cannot be changed, and these should not be disregarded either. Timely feedback is imperative. Staff should be updated on any actions agreed along with timescales based on their suggestions. Equally as important is the provision of feedback on the things that cannot change and the reasons why. If staff think that any issues are being brushed under the carpet this will likely create more problems and quickly undo any of the good work done.
In summary, an engagement journey should start with agreeing the outcome or aspiration of what type of organisation you want to be. This should be driven by a genuine desire from the top to be a better place to work. Then, you should listen to your people either through a survey or face-to-face session and follow-up with feedback. Finally, an action plan should be agreed with realistic timescales and then rolled out.
Ongoing feedback will ensure that everyone is aware of the things you did based on the suggestions made. In other words, a ‘you said, we did’ update. This journey should never be entered into half-heartedly. There will be a lot of things said that may be difficult to swallow however the pain should be worth it, in the long run.
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