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Cures for the engagement hangover

HR is faced with a constant battle when it comes to improving employee engagement, but how exactly can this be tackled in the New Year?

Words by Jade Burke | Design by Theo Griffin


January hangover
Engagement is at a worrying low. 2017 Gallup research found that only a tenth (11%) of UK employees felt engaged at work while a fifth (21%) were actively disengaged. This doesn’t go unnoticed by employers. According to CBI research, in 2018 just 12% of businesses claimed that they were happy with their current levels of engagement. Yet, it doesn’t appear there is a silver bullet to cure this, as it stems from different factors: a lack of inclusion within the workplace, ill-defined organisational purpose and poor working structures among them.

One key reason for disengagement in the month of January is the return to work after a Christmas shutdown. A 2016 survey by MetLife UK found that 27% of employees feel stressed about returning to work after the break, while 31% claimed that their main concern was catching up with everything they may have missed. To ensure apathy doesn’t take hold, there are several things that HR can do. Read on to find out what they are.


Blue Monday
January 20th marks ‘Blue Monday’, a day which is thought to be the most depressing of the year. As such, it is imperative employers focus on how productive and engaged their employees are after returning to work, putting measures in place to boost morale. As Mark Seeman, CEO at Staff Circle advises: "Understanding what impacts employee morale is one of the first steps to improving employee engagement and culture." So, what should employers do?

Dr Shaun Davis, Global Director of Safety, Health, Wellbeing & Sustainability at postal service Royal Mail Group, warns that employees' 'blue feelings' should not be ignored and that organisations should be active in changing this negative mindset. He tells HR Grapevine: “January Blues is such a big thing and Blue Monday is a big deal. People can get to a New Year where they think another year and they want it to be different and then put an expectation on themselves. There’s a frame of mind or a mindset aspect to it where people think ‘I’m going to own this year and make it different’ and organisations can do a lot.

“For example, relaunching your strategy and your engagement tools to tie into the New Year is good for operations, as well as from a mental health and engagement point of view, so there are lots of benefits from it.”

Three tips to improve engagement

Jennifer Merk, Head of HR & Communications at Actimo, shares some helpful ways in which employee engagement can be enhanced:

Step up your communication efforts
It’s not enough to send out a weekly newsletter every Friday. Communication is now an ongoing process. When you have something to say, say it and make sure people can get in touch with you. Make your communication personal, relevant and snackable.

Develop your employee’s skills – every day
Change is the new normal so people must have the opportunity to learn all the time. Split learning into bits and pieces and make it easy to access. Bring in some playfulness – learning can actually be a lot of fun.

Give and ask for ongoing feedback
Feedback is essential for both employees and leaders to know if they are on track. To help with this:
Have ongoing conversations with your employees to show real interest in their well-being at work; invest 15 to 30 minutes each day in practicing ‘management by walking around’ where you focus on helping your team; make sure your employees have an opportunity to give anonymous feedback. This could give insights into how your own behaviour affects their work experience.

Meaningful dialogue
Engagement can vary from person to person. One employee may feel more motivated than ever when returning to work, meanwhile another employee may feel overwhelmed and struggle to see the wood for the trees. Therefore, understanding that each individual’s wants and needs are different is essential if an employer is to successfully improve its workforce’s engagement.

Bobby Davis, Chief People Officer at independent hotel management company Almarose Hotels & Resorts, believes that for employers and HR to get a grasp of this they should resort to better and improved communication between staff members. She says: “Data is very important, but the conversations that sit alongside the numbers is where you’ll get your emotional insight. Giving employees the opportunity to have a conversation will also make them feel valued, as it gives them a voice to share their views.

“I have always found it best to start with a survey as this will give you top line figures and topics, which you can then use to guide discussion that will help dig into how engaged your employees are. I love the art of conversation, so I will often follow up surveys with team meetings and focus groups to enrich the data.”

Knowing when to survey
While surveys are a well-tested means to gauge how engaged a workforce is Royal Mail Group’s Davis suggests that these shouldn’t be used as a standalone tool, and that communication among employees should in fact be carried out all year long. He goes on to say: “I’m not a big fan of that set piece (surveys) once a year, because if you want to be really clear about engagement you should be looking throughout the year at what people are telling you.

“We have got a really strong communications team and we have an ongoing engagement programme running throughout the year which involves face-to-face conversations and senior managers going out to the frontline and listening to the voice of our employees to find out what’s working and what’s not.”


Avoiding mistakes
Almarose’s Davis believes that senior members of a company may be inclined to make assumptions about what employees want, which can sadly lead to a dip in engagement. She warns that this is a slippery slope and should be avoided at all costs if a business is to improve its efforts.

“It can be the case that those in a senior leadership position make assumptions about what their people want and need, which often leads to them making mistakes when it comes to managing their teams. This is why measuring engagement and talking to each other is so important,” she adds.

Therefore simply resting on your laurels is not an option when it comes to employee engagement. It is something that should be monitored constantly. That way engagement will only progress and develop, leading to a far more engaged workforce.


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