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Room 101 of Employee Engagement

Joe Wedgwood | 21st February 2020

Yesterday our latest Webinar aired featuring our good friend and best-selling HR author Gethin Nadin!

Gethin joined our Head of Global Happiness, Matt Phelan, to have a good old rant about all things employee engagement and HR…and to discuss what they would happily throw into the depths of Room 101!

First up let’s discover what Gethin wanted to banish…


Those who don’t ask “Why?”

Employee surveys have become a staple but too often they are a box-ticking exercise. Consequently, these businesses often aren’t stopping to think: “What questions are we asking?” Why are we asking them?” and “What will the outcome be?” This is very frustrating!

There’s a comfort zone in people asking the same questions over and over again. They have a pre-planned process and set of metrics they are comfortable in dealing with. Many businesses are still asking the same question they asked 5 years ago – no doubt leading to similar results. If you don’t have a clear answer as to “why” you’re asking these questions, then how can you create effective action plans that will affect a positive change for years to come?

Gethin’s Tips…

Challenge your thinking and engagement processes. Ask new questions in different ways, to unearth meaningful insight on how you can improve, and create more holistic action plans. 


Surveys in companies without a trust culture

Trust is the foundation of employee experience and thriving cultures. If businesses don’t have a trust culture, employees won’t feel comfortable enough to share honest and personal feedback. Without trust – you won’t get the truth. 

So if I (an employee) tell you (CEO) that I’m disengaged – I need to feel secure in the fact that you genuinely care and genuinely want to improve my situation and make a positive difference. 

I went for Sunday lunch last week and it wasn’t great. We were moaning to each other about how bad the meal was. When the waiters came to collect our plates and asked: “How was everything?” – I raised a few issues with the quality of the food. The waiter asked if I wanted to make an official complaint, to which I replied “no”. When the bill came everything was normal – no discount given off our next meal, no apology, no explanation for poor experience. This raises the question – what’s the point of asking for feedback if you aren’t going to do anything about it? It was a huge missed opportunity to turn a negative into a positive.

Gethin’s Tips…

This is a lesson for CEOs – when you have an ugly truth and lots of your people are unhappy or disengaged don’t shy away from it or ignore it. By doing so you’ll lose everyone’s trust and make them disillusioned in the feedback programme. Stand up in front of your people and address the bad points. Say why you’re concerned and most importantly communicate your plans to improve upon these negative areas. You build a trust culture through honesty, bravery and authenticity.


Annual surveys

Pulse surveys became popular a few years ago, so you’d expect the majority of organisations now to be gathering employee feedback more than once a year. But it’s not necessarily the case. 

A year’s a long time in someone’s life – in the past year we’ve impeached a president and lost two members of the royal family… For an employee a year could be 25% of the time they will be at a business. Things change quickly, so organisations need to be seeking regular feedback from their people.

Many businesses also ask for feedback around the time they release annual bonuses or pay rises to help ensure their scores and feedback are positive. Skewing the results like this won’t be an accurate representation of how happy everyone is throughout the year.

I also know that in some sectors like retail, it’s common to have employee comms blackout periods during busy periods like Christmas/Black Friday. This is a big mistake. If you fail to listen to your people during their busiest and often most stressful periods then your feedback programme will be highly ineffective. It will harm your chances of building a trust culture too.

Gethin’s tips…

Asking people for feedback once a year in isolation isn’t effective, as you will be missing so many opportunities to gain insight and help improve people’s working lives throughout the year. 

It’s not a black and white choice of one or the other – you can implement short pulses, and focussed surveys throughout the year as well as your annual survey in order to gain a fuller picture of company sentiment. 

Now let’s turn the tables and see what employee engagement pet peeves Matt would banish to Room 101…


Assuming all employees are the same

“Assumption is the mother of all f**k ups!” A good example where a business wanted to help their people but made assumptions that didn’t necessarily fit how everyone likes to work is VW. They brought in a process that automatically deleted emails coming in for people on holiday to ensure they came back from holiday refreshed. This may be a godsend for some people – but for others it drastically affects how they like to work and actually creates more stress. 

Some people may choose to do a lot of their work at 2am – whilst others operate better in the traditional 9-5 way. The point is that when businesses create rules and generalise them for everyone it doesn’t always work and often has the adverse effect – even if the businesses heart is in the right place. As we are all different and unique.

Matt’s Tips…

The only solution is to ask your people what they think and what would work for them. This is much more effective than guesswork… even if it is educated guesswork! At The Happiness Index, we don’t assume. We ask everyone what they actually want, instead of guessing and creating assumed and impersonal action plans. This is why The Happiness Index has a value called Freedom to be Human, where people have the right to be their true selves at work and work in a way which suits them.


Not feeding back your results

People get so frustrated when they take the time to fill in surveys and share their insights, yet nothing ever gets done with their feedback. 

Sometimes your people will ask you to do things that you can’t/won’t do for various reasons – this is normal. The mistake businesses often make then is to ignore the requests and adopt the ostrich with its head in the sand approach. 

Matt’s Tips…

Address each point and communicate the reasons why you can’t act on this feedback e.g. you can’t change your office location at present as you’re tied into a lease. This will ensure that people feel recognised and valued and also view you as a trustworthy and caring employer who is taking the time to address each point. 

Treat feedback as a normal conversation where you reply to each question – not just the good bits! It’s a two-way dialogue. As we said previously, you must address the ugly truths, as well as the good bits. That’s the only way to create an effective feedback initiative that people trust and want to contribute to.


Looking at employee survey data in isolation

So many businesses are guilty of looking at everything in isolation. If you just gather insights on customer satisfaction or employee satisfaction are you really getting the full picture? You must analyse the employee data and the customer data and run correlation analysis to get the full picture. 

For example, a company we know invested heavily in mental health training. After the training, more people started to take days off due to mental health conditions. Meaning absences went up. Instantly this seemed like a failure for the business. But was it?

When we drilled deeper into the data and looked holistically at the business and sick days it became clear that less time off was taken over the whole year.  People were being more honest and taking days off for their mental health when they needed to. This resulted in less fake sick days and other absences throughout the year. 

This would not have come to light if the business only gathered data on the mental health project – which many businesses are guilty of. By having multiple data points the business learnt quickly that their people were being more honest, taking time off when they needed to and having less time off overall. The mental health initiative was actually a huge success!

Matt’s Tips…

Data in isolation only tells a small part of the story. The more data you have, the more you understand your business and are therefore in a stronger position to make meaningful and empathetic improvements to boost employee engagement and business processes. It’s as simple as that. 


Find out what made it to Room 101

This was the shortlist! To discover what 2 from this list made it into Room 101 please listen to the full webinar here – https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/5457726536183605005?source=Website

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