Simple ways to make employee engagement work

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But even though organisations seem to be accepting the truth of this, I still find that engagement levels are alarmingly low among UK employees. Figures from ORC’s recent Putting it in Perspective Report, for example, show only 63% of employees feel motivated and inspired by their managers, and fewer still (47%) have confidence that action will be taken following staff surveys.

Two success case studies

What steps can organisations take to motivate and engage their employees and make sure that everyone within the organisation is striving for success? ORC’s recent Employee Engagement Conference presented some inspirational success stories that prove that, although employee engagement might not be rocket science, there is certainly an amount of chemistry required to get the right mix of approaches for your organisation.

Southern Railway

For Zoey Hudson, Head of Organisation, Leadership and Behavioural Development at Southern Railway, the challenge was not only to engage with staff during a period of uncertainly as the company bid for a new rail franchise, but to do so across a large geographical area, amid evidence of disengagement among staff and mistrust of the previous staff survey process.

Southern’s solution was to build a programme of people activities driven locally by line managers. Branded with the ‘Making Every Journey Better’ banner, the programme saw local line managers trained to coach and encourage new behaviours and to listen to people’s challenges through one-to-one time with staff and in team briefings.

Implementing local action plans, Zoey argues, will enable people to see improvements being made in their local environment. Within a year, the success of Southern’s approach was evident in a new staff survey: 69% of employees had had time with their manager and 84% had been involved in team briefings. Response rates to the survey leapt from 37% to 54% in 2011, and 71% in 2012. The overall engagement score for the 2011 survey was 66%, up from 58% in 2010. These figures can be translated into business benefits too: Southern scored 83% in the autumn 2011 National Passenger Survey, and the company overall has seen a significant reduction in grievances and tribunals.

Essex County Council

At Essex County Council, the emphasis is still on line managers, but Lisa Sibley, Employee Engagement Manager, has called on senior management to have the courage to kick-start change programmes – and to inject a bit of fun into the process. Team briefing sessions with titles such as ‘Thank God it’s Monday’, and ‘Carlsberg Sessions’ are designed to create genuine opportunities for employees to speak frankly about their jobs and engage in valuable conversations with managers. The key to success, Lisa suggests, is to find the right ambassadors within the organisation. Starting with the CEO, senior leaders were persuaded to engage with the engagement process and champion real conversations so they were sustained and could grow and develop across the organisation.

As for the staff survey, the recruitment of ‘Survey Champions’ to encourage buy in from staff across the organisation has contributed to a leap in participation from 46% in 2007 to 67% in 2011, an impressive public sector score. Essex’s ‘talk, listen, connect, engage’ mantra is making a real difference at both organisational and team levels with some teams’ engagement index levels as high as 90%.

A final thought

For many large organisations, it seems, the challenge is not to persuade senior leaders to accept the value of employee engagement, but to find the right mix of actions and initiatives to implement to give staff confidence that their voice will be heard, not just during staff surveys, but continually throughout the year. Not rocket science, perhaps, but it’s clear there is no alchemy involved either. There is no magical solution, just a carefully thought out process that requires in depth knowledge of your organisation, its people, and the right mix of communication and action to ensure staff feel motivated and engaged at work.

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