Employees want to be heard, and employers should be willing to listen

February 19, 2018

A lack of engagement in the workplace is causing companies to fall behind in today’s world of constant innovation and change

Employees want to be heard, and employers should be willing to listen

While employee engagement remains one of the biggest elements to a company’s success, a chronic lack of engagement in the workplace is causing many corporations to fall behind in today’s world of constant innovation and change.

In order to better engage employees, therefore, more focus needs to be placed on:

• building trust

• providing positive reinforcement, and

• engaging employees with respect and humanity.

These were the conclusions of a high-level debate amongst leaders from a variety of organisations around the world brought together in London by Sodexo for its Quality of Life Conference.

A connection between the quality of life of employees, engagement between the company and employees, and how employees relate to their customers is crucial to the wellbeing of employees, the conference heard.

Without a clear sense of purpose, employees will feel disconnected

Jane Griffiths, global head of biotech firm Actelion, said without a clear sense of purpose and understanding when working with clients, employees will continue to feel disconnected and therefore less likely to engage truly with their jobs.

But, an understanding of the needs of their clients, a true sense of purpose and an understanding of their ability to change lives positively will bring a greater sense of wellbeing — and therefore quality of life — to employees.

Mia Mends, who as CEO leads the strategic evolution and growth of Sodexo’s North America-based Benefits and Rewards Services, told the conference how employees need validation, recognition and positive reinforcement in order to thrive in the workplace.

To engage employees more effectively, employers must recognise several things:

  • employees desire authentic relationships, validation, and recognition, all of which can only be provided by meaningful human connection;
  • contrary to popular belief, employees truly want to learn and stay engaged in the workplace; and
  • employees want to be heard, and employers should be willing to listen.

Organisations improve employee engagement at a much faster rate when they take on board feedback urging improvement rather than feedback simply for evaluation.

Sodexo has its own employee engagement business – sodexoengage.com – which  describes itself as “the glue that sticks business and people together”, handling the practicalities, the planning and the behind-the-scenes running of schemes bespoke to each client.

‘An engaged and happy workforce who feel valued and appreciated’

Within its own UK and Ireland business, as part of its annual Star Awards scheme, Sodexo recognises the best exponents of employee engagement.

The most recent national winner, service manager Rachel Oxenham, at Swinton Barracks in Wiltshire, leaves no stone unturned when it comes to engaging employees.

Whether it's through nominating colleagues for awards, encouraging staff to take NVQs, or holding staff coffee mornings; she has done everything in her power to ensure that every member of her team has felt valued and able to progress in the business.

“I've done lots of things but I didn't do them to get an award,” said Rachel. “I did them because it was the right thing to do for our people.”

Rachel leads a team of more than 100 staff members who together look after the cleaning, retail, mess management and catering services at the barracks.

“She has an engaged and happy workforce where they all feel valued and appreciated,” said account manager Debbie Smith, who nominated her for the award. “She is passionate about her people and will do all she can to ensure they are well looked after and feel part of a team.”

Rachel is highly visible around the barracks and takes part in department team huddles so that her team has regular opportunities to raise issues or concerns directly with her. “They are the people on the ground, they probably understand the business as well as anyone else,” explained Rachel, who is also the site’s charity champion.

In the past year she saw two colleagues promoted into other positions in the garrison and has promoted seven colleagues within her unit. “Lots of people have been given that opportunity to step up to supervisory and management roles here and it’s lovely to see people get on,” said Rachel.

“I like to see people succeed in their ambitions and get to where they want to be and all colleagues should know that they can be anything they want to, given the support where needed.”

Employee engagement is neither very complicated nor very simple, in the view of Sodexo’s UK and Ireland HR director, Andy Rogers. “I like to err on the side of simplicity and take an individual route to helping people to become engaged in what they do,” he said.

Enthusiastic people feel they have a voice within their team.

Sodexo has had external recognition of its best examples of employee engagement: in 2017, gold accreditation from Investors in People (IiP) was given to 14 Sodexo sites.

IiP assessed the teams at five hospitals, six Corporate Services operations, Hampden Park National Stadium, Southampton Solent University and the Sodexo People Centre, observing how they lead, support and manage their people.

At Hereford County Hospital, for example, the assessor said: “People’s pride in what they do is very strong, and overwhelmingly they give good feedback about working for Sodexo: tending to mention in particular the flexibility and warmth shown in times of need, and the opportunities to develop their career should they wish to.

“The personal development review (PDR) is used here with more skill and subtlety than at most sites, and people have faith in its usefulness and impact. Across the site, people are enthusiastic and feel that they have a voice within their team, with the associated opportunities to make improvements or raise concerns.”

Meanwhile, the assessor said the Sodexo team at Southampton Solent University had evolved to become a beacon of good practice, for which it is already used widely within the business. “The source of that excellence is a complete belief in, and commitment to, a leadership and people culture that drives sustainable high performance and that has been sustained over time, developed and made successively more effective.

“The excellent outcomes achieved are the result of a long history of regarding these things as integral and important: it is clear that over a lengthy period the decisions made and the strategies adopted have reflected the same approach, for example in the coaching, development or appointment of new people managers.

“It is important to recognise that this comes from an unswerving commitment to the importance of great leadership and people management, and a rock solid belief that it is beneficial to staff, to customers, to the client and overall to Sodexo commercial performance.”

Engaged employees 22% more productive

Highly engaged employees are estimated to be 22 per cent more productive than disengaged employees, and, therefore, employee engagement is crucial to the financial success of a company, according to John Frehse, a leading practitioner in various employee management issues.

The positive impact engaged employees can have on a business was also noted in Sodexo’s 2017 Global Workforce Trends report, which observed engaged employees were 27 per cent more likely to feel optimistic about their company’s future, 20 per cent more likely to stay with that company and 40 per cent more likely to believe their company is more competitive.

Meanwhile, John, New York based senior managing director at Ankura Consulting Group, a leading provider of operational and labour strategy consulting services, also believes companies should empower employees by giving them Google-style, easy access to information in a useful format.

Thanks to Google, people are used to getting the information they want easily and effectively outside the workplace. Providing easy access to information within the workplace would make employees feel like they are winning and would make them more effective, he pointed out. “Google is the coach for all of us.”

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