Andy Rogers, HR director at Sodexo UK & Ireland, outlines why employee engagement must be top of the agenda for 2018.
The past year has brought a lot of changes and uncertainty to the nation’s political and economic future. From Brexit to the US elections, there has been a lot to take in for all of us. Last year’s figures by the Cebr also showed that consumer confidence is at its lowest in four years, whil other reports have painted a grey picture of a post-Brexit ‘brain drain’; all of which will no doubt impact people’s perceptions of job security.
In fact a report by the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) ranked political and economic uncertainty as the top challenge faced by a third of businesses this year. Combine these issues together, along with the grim picture faced by our nation’s gender pay gap figures and this has the potential to lead to a rather demotivated, unproductive workforce, resulting in poor business performance.
Do your staff feel valued at work?
So what can we, as HR professionals, do to manage this? We can talk about job security and look at new benefits and reward programmes, however employee engagement, in my opinion, is vital.
By employee engagement, I don’t simply mean a standard staff survey which at times distracts people from their core work, which often takes weeks of analysis, only to result in a 100-point action plan of improvement that only HR people are interested in. The focus should instead be on getting a better understand of how involved workers feel in not only their immediate role but also the wider workplace and organisation as a whole.
Developments in HR and technology allow us to flip traditional models of engagement on their head, building from the individual rather than a top-down approach.
Our role is to understand what makes individuals feel valued at work in order to determine where they can deliver value for the business but also themselves, through meaningful work.
If we can encourage and empower individuals to be their true authentic self in the workplace, rather than adopting watered down work version, diversity and equality challenges will be so much easier to address, regardless of the media and commercial pressures many of us face.
Do people feel like they have a voice?
This is why engagement should be considered as part of the day-to-day philosophy of an organisation. It is about genuine and impactful relationships that support employees throughout their career development. It’s about managers and leaders offering engaging ways of working, and employees feeling like they are included and have a voice.
If people in your organisation feel that they have been listened to; if feedback is a two way process that is open and honest; if they feel that they can contribute to decisions, then they can play an active role in driving improvements. I can’t think of a single high performing business that doesn’t seek to constantly improve. And they tend to be those with the most engaged workforces, regardless of sector.
But while we can take steps to measure engagement and provide tools and initiatives to improve it, the responsibility can’t lie solely within the HR division. It is our job to encourage and empower managers, supervisors and other directors to put engagement at the top of their agenda.
From changes to working practices, to extending health and wellbeing initiatives, simply listening and responding to employee needs and opinions can make individuals feel more involved and more secure, regardless of what is happening externally.
Linking engagement to business outcomes
The concept of employee engagement might not be as easy to define or implement as a salary increase or a culture and values manifesto, but the benefits of high engagement are clear.
There is a clear relationship between engagement, productivity and company profitability. Taking steps to increase engagement will no doubt have a positive impact on the others. With all of the external concerns, there couldn’t be a more important time to not only push engagement higher up the HR agenda but the wider business agenda itself.
Whilst we can’t control the direction of our political or economic landscapes, we certainly have the power to reduce uncertainty and negativity among our colleagues to create a happier, more engaged, more productive and ultimately more profitable workforce. This year, in my opinion, it is vital we do this.