Employee engagement should always be on - not just at Christmas

Written by
Paul Elder-Gibbins

19 Dec 2016

19 Dec 2016 • by Paul Elder-Gibbins

My wife says I’m a big kid when it comes to Christmas, not just because of giving and receiving gifts but for the whole tradition of celebrating Christmas, even to ordering our Turkey. I have a real passion and love for cooking and enjoy taking my time ordering the Turkey from our local butcher, our smoked salmon from our fishmongers and our wine from our local merchant. During the festive period I always notice how engaged the employees in these stores are and how they have real passion, interest and engagement when speaking to you as a customer.

This got me thinking about the topic of employee engagement and what was different during the festive period. Is there anything organisations can look at or could harness throughout the year to maintain this level of engagement? Now you may say that the festive period is the season of goodwill and therefore people have a more positive outlook. Organisations allow you to dress in a more relaxed way, think Christmas jumper days and of course not forgetting it’s the party and holiday season.  But I want to take a deeper look at engagement and see what I find.

How can employment engagement be less challenging?

The first point I want to highlight is that we know employee engagement continues to be a challenge for businesses with more and more organisations citing this as one of their biggest challenges. But it’s about shifting from a transactional, once-a-year mindset of the traditional roll out of an engagement survey, to an “always on,” continuous approach and recognising the demands and expectations of today’s diverse workforce has changed and therefore so has the relationship between employer and employee.

I’m sure we have all experienced times when we have felt empowered and had a sense of ownership for our job and therefore our engagement is significantly heightened. In October, Harvard Business Review published a digital article called ‘The rebel at work’ by Francesca Gino. The article talked about how employee engagement is a business wide problem and to fix it you should encourage your employees to break rules and be themselves. Throughout our careers we are taught to conform to the status quo, to the opinions and behaviours of others. The article suggests that organisations consciously or unconsciously urge employees to leave a good chunk of their real selves at the door, which is having an impact on the people and their respective organisations with decreased engagement and poor productivity. Several case studies highlight organisations that are embracing a new way of working and are viewing their people in a different way. 

As I said earlier one of my big passions is cooking and the world of gastronomy and back in the summer I was hooked on Netflix - The Chef’s Table, a documentary series profiling the most renowned chefs in the world. The first episode was about Massimo Bottura, an Italian restaurateur and the chef of Osteria Francescana, a three-Michelin-star restaurant based in Modena which in In June became No. 1 in The World's 50 Best Restaurants 2016. 

In addition to his concept of a juxtapose to culinary tradition and innovative cooking was his refreshing and innovative approach to being a chef and a restaurateur. Most restaurants, especially top-ranked ones, observe a strict hierarchy, with specific titles for each position. But at Osteria Francescana, jobs and their responsibilities are tailored to individual workers and with this employees are encouraged to be themselves and express their authentic selves at work, which in turn made them more engaged and committed in the workplace. Another aspect that Massimo Bottura is very passionate about is how he rotates people through various positions for at least a few months so that he and his team can configure jobs to play to the newcomers’ strengths, ensuring that employees land where they fit best.
If this approach can be taken by the No. 1 restaurant in the world, and as we know the restaurant trade can be one of the toughest and most demanding environments, then there should be no excuse for other organisations not to follow suit. This approach reaffirms the idea that engagement is continuous and is a significant business driver to any organisations success. And on an individual level, we all want to feel we matter and our organisation is focused on magnifying our strengths, not our weaknesses and wants us to come to work as the whole person that we are.