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Carla Cavanagh

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Don’t drop the ball now – engage for recovery


Change and upheaval has been a feature of the past year. However as we look to the future, engagement will be a key differentiator. Is your organisation engaged and ready to play the game?

We all know an engaged workforce is essential to an organisations health and wealth, particularly as we move out of the recession and into a more stable economic situation. No doubt many organisations have tackled redundancies and rapid change over the past year. But only those that have kept on engaging their staff and making sure they are involved in the business will be in a good position for the future. Those that have ignored this and lost the trust and goodwill of their staff will find the recovery more difficult. In fact, they may never win back the faith of their employees.

Despite a turbulent and challenging year, the 2010 Best Companies to Work For survey shows that staff engagement is still high on the agenda for UK organisations. The survey of over 276,000 employees reveals that overall engagement among participating organisations is down slightly from 2009, from 70.9% to 69.3%. This year the survey reveals that staff concerns about their pay and benefits have slightly less influence on overall engagement, indicating that employees understand their employer may be having a tough year. The lesson for employers is that it is still possible to increase engagement while being unable to raise pay levels.

This year’s survey also underlines the important role managers have in keeping their team productive and motivated. For the first time in the ten years of our research, employees have cited ‘My Manager’ as a more important factor in their engagement than the leader and senior management. Almost 90% of staff in three-star companies – the highest accreditation achievement possible – say their manager cares about their job satisfaction, and 89% in this group say their manager motivates them to give their best. Among companies that did not achieve accreditation, these scores are just 64% and 56% respectively.

This year, we have also undertaken a specific project with the public sector. Among this group, 69% of these organisations achieved ‘One to Watch’ accreditation or above, compared to 88% from the private sector. This suggests the public sector still has some way to go in engaging staff ahead of a potentially difficult year, but is already getting close to the high standard set by the best of British business.

Out of eight key engagement factors, the public sector did particularly well in the ‘Fair Deal’ factor related to pay and benefits, and the ‘Giving Something Back’ factor that relates to social responsibility. Public sector employees go to work because they want to do good things and have a positive influence on the community. The Best Companies’ survey shows that their employers help them achieve this goal, and that they feel their organisation makes a positive difference to the world we live in.

However, leadership is the most important factor influencing employee engagement in public sector. Interestingly, it’s more important than in the private sector and is even more influential than ‘My Manager’, the top factor for private sector companies. But leadership is also the main area where the public sector needs to improve in comparison to private sector. Senior managers at private sector companies are still better at inspiring their teams and truly living the values of their organisations. Their employees have more confidence in the leadership skills of the senior management teams and are excited about where the organisation is going. Leadership is a critical factor in engaging employees in the public sector and key lessons need to be learnt from the likes of ACPO Criminal Records Office, Robert Clack School and Central Office of Information, which have all placed highly in The Sunday Times Best Places to Work in the Public Sector ranking this year.

Approachability seems to be the most common theme when describing leaders in the top-ranked organisations. They regularly meet with teams for lunch to obtain direct feedback and ideas that staff may have. They take the time to walk the floor and talk both about work as well as social topics. It’s about being visible at work and during out-of-hours activities. Having an open door policy, allowing all employees to approach leaders around any issue, seems to be crucial. If the CEO has a blog, it has to be interactive and employees’ questions need to be personally addressed and suggestions considered.

If we look at the best practice in public sector, leaders are seen as inspiring and charismatic, while their management style is described as empowering. They focus on values and praise, and take the time to mentor and coach staff at all levels to develop them to their full potential.

An engaged workforce will prove essential in taking your organisation through the upturn – are you ready?

Carla Cavanagh is research associate at Best Companies


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