An engagement model that listens to the employee voice can boost employee wellbeing, says Michael Ridgett, learning and communications director at Arcus FM.
Employee engagement has always been a strong focus point for us at Arcus but it became a challenge to maintain during the pandemic. We knew we needed to prioritise engagement.
Our efforts paid off. In the summer of 2020, we noted that employee attitudes to our Covid response included:
- Actively engaged colleagues overall climbed by 4.5 percentage points compared with the previous year;
- 83 per cent of our workforce were actively engaged with our Covid response; and
- Less than 9 per cent were actively disengaged with our Covid response.
We want to share the lessons we learned.
1. Make colleague engagement a key part of your strategy
Engaging your workforce must be a critical component of your wider company strategy, not an add on. Research shows the positive impact an engaged workforce has on nearly every part of your business. Because we had spent many years developing an engagement strategy, we had strong foundations to work from when the pandemic struck.
2. Colleagues perception of the company is often shaped by their manager
Our research during the pandemic demonstrated that colleagues who were engaged with their manager had significantly higher levels of advocacy for the company. It’s crucial to not only train your managers in the tool of engagement but help them to understand the significance of their role in shaping how colleagues feel about their work, especially during uncertain times.
You must encourage employee voice, whether that is town halls, colleague forums, opinion surveys or networking platforms such as Yammer. During the crisis, we had to suspend activities such as CEO Town Halls, but we moved online, running live Yammer sessions enabling colleagues to raise whatever question or concerns they had with senior managers in real time.
We also made a change early in the crisis asking all managers to hold regular weekly calls with their teams. Whilst this may seem simple, it was one of the most effective things we did. It encouraged open conversations, helping to answer colleagues’ questions and reducing levels of anxiety, quickly and effectively.
4. Do it simply
Engagement is a complex topic and can be experienced differently by individual colleagues. Therefore, it is important to simplify the topic and make it accessible to colleagues and managers alike.
We have developed our own engagement model called RIDS. It distils engagement theory into the 4 areas we know are most important to our colleagues; Recognition, Involvement, Development and Support. Whilst it has strong foundations in self-determination theory it translates the theories of human motivation and people's innate psychological needs into a model that is unique to us and simple to use.
When the pandemic hit it was reassuring to have a tried and tested model that all our managers had been trained in. Its simplicity helped them to remain focused on engagement, even with the complexity and uncertainty that the Coronavirus was creating on a daily basis.
5. It’s okay not to have all the answers
As managers there is an implicit contract with our teams to show the way, prove we care, and ensure stability and clarity. The pandemic, however, was a new and significant challenge for everyone. And, in the early days we certainly didn’t have all the answers. Being honest about this whilst demonstrating to our colleagues that we understood their concerns, that we valued them and that we supported them was extremely important. But this was only possible by making the time to listen and reinforcing our commitment to figure things out quickly.
We are proud that we have a comprehensive engagement and wellbeing strategy. However, the biggest learning from the pandemic so far has been the importance of simple conversations. Effective recognition, involvement, development and support is brought to life through a conversation.
Encouraging our managers to more frequently check-in with the colleagues has been the single most effective thing in managing the stress, challenge and anxiety that the pandemic has created. And the real learning is that this simple tool can be applied whenever we experience significant change and uncertainty.