The perpetual issue

Employee engagement during challenging times
HR Forum at Duke’s Hotel, 21st July 2010

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It would be fair to say that employee engagement is a vital component of a business’s success at any time, but in the current climate is it even more so? According to guest speaker Tim West, chairman of Lexington Catering, the answer is a resounding no. “Employee engagement isn’t just important now – it’s vital all the time!”

The concept is essential to both the business and the individual employee and Tim regards it as the “perpetual issue” for the hospitality industry. Employers want engaged employees for the simple reason that they deliver improved business performance – increased sales, profits and productivity, and reduced attrition. Employees want trust, respect, appreciation, recognition for their efforts, opportunities to learn and develop, and a pleasant working environment.

An employee who envisages a lack of career development within a company, or feels their work goes unrecognized, will feel demoralisation in themselves and apathy towards the business. This in turn makes the manager’s job harder as they end up ‘pulling a team along’ instead of guiding it.

“Move the needle on engagement and you move the needle on business success”

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It’s the little things…the forum’s discussion

There was a general consensus at the forum that employee engagement has less to do with formal processes and more to do with personal relationships and the work environment as a whole.

Inductions, performance reviews and on-going appraisals all have their place in modern business, but sometimes it is the informal setting of a chat over a cup of tea which results in the most useful feedback and suggestions.

Formalised training and development are appreciated, and are a necessary part of any business, but it must also be remembered that not all team members want promotion or additional responsibility. There are some individuals happy to remain where they are, so long as they feel part of a team and that their contributions are noted and appreciated. It is how they are managed that directly affects their productivity and hence, the performance of the business.

“People are happy to be led – they just want to know what the direction is”

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Businesses need to develop their managers skill sets in recognising and acknowledging effort – this is especially true at junior management level, as they will be facing staff most often. They are the first representation of a company that a new starter will encounter, and yet they are the very individuals who, due to age and inexperience, are not yet adept at leading a team. They need help and guidance in how to manage a team, deal with staff issues, prevent and/or resolve disagreements etc.

“Employees don’t leave a company – they leave a line manager”

Cross training was also voiced as a positive means by which to promote team-work and understanding. It was agreed that this policy works best when applied as a two-fold ethos:

  • staff members spending one day in another department
  • managers being sent “back to the floor” for a period.

These programmes help employees appreciate the pressures of their colleagues’ roles and responsibilities, as well as providing managers the opportunity to demonstrate their know-how and experience. These efforts combined lead to a better understanding of the business as a whole, as well as awareness of the demands placed on other team members and management.

On a broader scale, companies must create an atmosphere whereby

  • employees feel comfortable in speaking to their superiors (especially if the comments are negative or a complaint)
  • where they believe in the ethos of the company and the direction in which its heading
  • employees feel that any problems are dealt with openly & honestly
  • employees’ ideas and suggestions are welcomed and, where suitable, acted on
  • open, honest and frank dialogue between senior management and their employees

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“As well as the atmosphere and company ethos, it also helps to add ‘perks’ to the employment contract”

In times of greater fiscal concern, when salaries are being frozen and opportunities for promotion may be scarcer, it is vital that companies create other benefits for employees to keep them engaged and motivated.

“Engaging employees doesn’t start on day one; it starts during the recruitment process”

Some of the suggestions that attendees at the forum found worked particularly well were

  • Welcome to the Team’ cards posted to the employees home before they start on their first day
  • Flexi benefits instead of just health insurance/pension
  • Birthdays off work, paid (in addition to the statutory holiday allowance)
  • Personalised birthday and Christmas cards
  • Company funded staff excursions or days out
  • Recognition for long periods of service
  • Employee of the month competitions

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In conclusion…

Engaged employees work with passion and flair and thus generate more business and a pleasant working environment. The importance of employee engagement cannot be over-looked.

The best employees and managers are always the most sought after commodity of any well-performing entity. Regardless of the current economic challenges facing the industry, these people will always have options. According to Tim, employees with options will consider the atmosphere of a business as just as much of a deciding factor as wages, work-schedule and benefits.

“Getting the good staff is a battle – keeping them is a war!”


All pictures Susannah Fields, Flashfields Photography

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