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Jamie Lawrence


Insights Director

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Making employee engagement engaging


This article was written by Kate Russell, MD of Russell HR Consulting.

Employee engagement is one of the holy grails of the HR world. We want employees who are interested in what they’re doing (at least most of the time; we all have an off-day) and do their best for their employer. Like respect, you have to earn employees’ interest, although I do take the view that in parallel employees should make the best of their opportunities and try to interest themselves in what’s going on and not wait passively to be engaged. When I was asked to give new and interesting views on employee engagement I mulled it over a while. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all method. You have to tailor your engagement activities and approach to your environment. Generally speaking there’s nothing new under the sun, just new interpretations. So here are my thoughts on employee engagement.

Employees/clients should love working for/with you

I’m not particularly bothered if my employees like me or not, so long as we can get along together, but I do want them to love working with me, to be excited by what our business does and what it stands for, to be proud to be part of my team, to enjoy the work, feel it’s worthwhile and valued and to enjoy the team dynamic.

Achieving employee engagement starts, as so many things do, with recruitment. Set the scene to attract the right people. Our recruitment processes are designed to seek out and test the qualities we want. We’ll work happily with someone who shows the right raw skills and a willingness to learn, but not people who talk the talk but don’t demonstrate the walk.

Having pride in what you do builds engagement. It can be helpful to write down and discuss quality values, especially in bigger workgroups. For us, quality in work and service delivery is like Brighton rock. Whichever way you cut it, there it is, running like a determined pink steak through the heart of the organisation. One of our requirements is that we like and respect our clients and suppliers and they respect us and treat us with courtesy. We sacked one of our biggest clients recently because they were too arrogant and/or stupid to take our advice. It was the right thing to do because they will make one horrendous mess too many (we’ve bailed them out I don’t know how many times now) and then blame us. It will end in tears. Their actions ran counter to our quality values, so I served notice to terminate. The team were right behind me.

Intellectual excitement and learning opportunities

Intellectual excitement and the opportunity to learn on an on-going basis are so important. Our maxim is (for clients and staff) “there’s no such thing as a stupid question” and we constantly share information, building knowledge and confidence. I also find out what areas team members want to learn about and facilitate it. Two years ago one of my team started learning about employment tribunal work. She shadowed associates, read the excellent IDS Tribunals Practices and Procedures book, assisted on cases and now she’s flying solo. Two weeks ago she represented the respondent at a local mock CIPD employment tribunal and won, even though the claimant won in real life. Her cross-examination was so good the judge made a point of congratulating her. Go Susie!

Metaphorical mountain climbing

One of our trainees, Lilly, has been regularly presenting our schools initiative (Build and Fly Your Own Rocket) to local schools, to help young people find and keep a job. She’d been doing it about six months when she told me that if I’d asked her “Will you do it?” she’d have said “No thanks!” but because we said “Next month you’ll be doing this. We’ll help you prepare and rehearse you” she just gulped and did it. Now she says she’s so grateful that we did because it’s really helped her develop her skills and confidence.

Metaphorical mountain climbing also engages employees. I always tend to be part way up one mountain before looking round for the next one to climb, with the team in hot pursuit. Agreed team challenges keep us all on our toes, focussed, learning and invigorated (must be the mountain air!). We moved office recently to a wonderful grade two listed building. To celebrate we decided to do a fundraiser for our local hospice. So the great Willen Hospice Cat Walk came about and my lovely team were all models. We also had a late and unexpected entry – the 18 month old daughter of Marta, our other trainee. Emma toddled round looking very stylish in baby Boden. She was an absolute star and beamed for the camera in the most natural way. The chorus of “Aaaah!”s as she did so was almost deafening! We raised £1000 for the hospice and all feel an enormous joint sense of team achievement.

Happy = engaged

Doing the fundraiser was partly for fun. I’ve always like Ben and Jerry’s fun-Fridays idea. Happy workers are engaged workers, so I am in the process of introducing the Fun Fund. A small budget will be made available every month and we decide as a team how to spend time getting to know each other outside work without the phone ringing every five minutes. The team will manage the budget which can accumulate if it is not used. Some activities will be cheap or free, some will be more expensive. Anything reasonable and lawful will be considered! Cycle rides, picnics, pub lunches, manicures, wine and scrabble evenings, a day at the spa, a day at the races are all mooted. Taking time to get to know your employees means you understand each other a little more and get a little closer.

And lastly, spread a little happiness…. actively show kindness, courtesy and targeted appreciation at work. Encourage your employees to do so too. We pass on feedback in a constructive way (it’s nearly always positive I’m pleased to say), monitor to ensure that the team is working happily and well and intervene if we see hiccoughs or strain.

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence

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