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Confessions Of An Employee Listener

A blonde-haired, spectacle wearing woman and a grey-haired, spectacle-wearing, laughing man discuss employee listening on a podcast
Jo Coxhill (left) and Andy Goram (right) discuss what hot topics employees inside organisations are really talking about

Whilst employee surveys have been around for years, the term "Employee Listening" is a relatively recent evolution. Listening to employees suggests we get something more than just surveying. It feels more human, less functional and that they'll be some result of that listening - maybe even a conversation or action. But regardless of all the surveying and listening that is supposedly going on, it's not having much of an effect.

Employee engagement numbers would suggest we still have stagnation. The percentage of the employed population now are no more engaged than they were 20 years ago. In fact, recent reports suggest following the decline during the Pandemic, we still haven't recovered to pre-Pandemic levels. So what's going on?

In the latest episode of Sticky From The Inside, I spoke to Jo Coxhill, a self-confessed Employee Listener to see if she could shed some light on what hot topics employees are really talking about inside their organisations? In the show entitled "Confessions of an employee listener", Jo shares her thoughts on what's going on and where we can improve. You can listen to the full conversation on the player below, or read the following full transcript to get the skinny!

Full Podcast Transcript

00:00:10 - Andy Goram

Hello and welcome to Sticky from the Inside, the employee engagement podcast that looks at how to build stickier, competition-smashing, consistently successful organisations from the inside out. I'm your host, Andy Goram, and I'm on a mission to help more businesses turn the lights on behind the eyes of their employees, light the fires within them, and create tons more success for everyone.

This podcast is for all those who believe that's something worth going after and would like a little help and guidance in achieving that. Each episode we dive into the topics that can help create what I call stickier businesses, the sort of businesses where people thrive and love to work, and where more customers stay with you and recommend you to others because they love what you do and why you do it. So if you want to take the tricky out of being sticky, listen on.

The Topic of Listening To Employees

Okay, then, what really goes on inside different organisations when it comes to culture and communications? I mean, usually we only see or hear about such things when we're inside our own, and even then we don't hear everything. Yep, we may get to read stuff in articles occasionally, but how well manicured or created has that been? And have some of the crazy bad or crazy bad things just been amped up for effect to get clicks and listeners and followers what's really, really, really going on. Today I want to take the topic of listening to employees to try and get a handle about what is really going on in the world of work at the moment.

When we really hear what employees are saying and what companies are doing as a result, what colour or shade does it throw up against some of today's apparent hot topics like what's really happening with burnout? Why is the momentum behind mandates to return to the office looking like it's increasing? With all the focus put on engaging and connecting with our people, why are the latest numbers around engagement still saying that everything is stagnant? Do employees feel more or less listened to in reality? And why is that? And then what's happening as a result?

So, to get into all of that, I've invited my good friend and internal communications expert turned employee listener Jo Coxhill into the Sticky studios today to give us the skinny on what's going on in all of her work helping leaders and organisations improve culture, communication and connection. I'd like to know what are some of the common, outrageous, encouraging and real things that she hears about that we're all using to adapt to the new world of work? Now, with my tongue firmly placed in my cheek and in a spirit of fun today, I have entitled today's episode “confessions of an employee listener” as I attempt to see if I can get Jo to reveal all and help us understand what's really being said, heard, ignored and acted upon in real life organisations. So welcome to the show, Jo.

00:03:29 - Jo Coxhill

Thank you for having me. I'm excited.

Introduction To Jo Coxhill

00:03:31 - Andy Goram

Well, it's just nice for us. Well, I think it's nice for us to sit down and record what we gas on about, because I've always loved our conversations and you've been running around speaking at loads of engagements and listening to loads of organisations and the employees in it of late. So you must have your finger right on the pulse about what is really happening around some of these hot topics. But do me a favour, Jo, just introduce yourself to the audience. Tell us a bit about you and what you're focused on at the moment.

00:04:00 - Jo Coxhill

Sure. So, yeah, I'm Jo. I'm founder of Vision 29, and that started originally back in 2013 as a marketing business. My first client in that guise actually asked me to come and do some internal comms for them. I realised very quickly that that was far more of a passion for me than external comms, because you can see straight away and you hear when your comms campaigns and all the activity that you do lands well or when it doesn't land well. And so I just found it much more gratifying. So over the years that I ran Vision 29, in the early, early days, I kind of started merging comms, internal comms and external comms. And over time, I was just moving much more into the comms and engagement kind of realms. I paused the business for a few years as I went in house to head up an internal comms team to get the in-house experience. And then last year, I came back out. I'd been in a couple of roles, but I come back out and decided to reestablish Vision 29. But this time, well and truly in the internal comms, employee experience and organisation culture space.

00:05:16 - Andy Goram

It's a big space. It's a popular space.

00:05:19 - Jo Coxhill

Yeah, it is. Yeah. Because I think. I think they all kind of come together and they cross over. So, yes, I don't do it all. I have associates that I work with that I bring in with clients on particular things, but, yeah, I think, and I guess that's it. The internal comms I do enjoy, but I think internal comms is still just a vessel and just a channel for EX (Employee Experience) and a culture piece, which is where I get, again, another level of excitement kind of comes in at that point.

Confessions Of An Employee Listener

00:05:48 - Andy Goram

All right, well, we'll try and tap into some of that excitement today. Before we start, though, I just have to check the title I put on this podcast episode, confessions of an employee listener. And do you think it's apt for what we might actually get into today when we think about what's really going on around some of these perceived hot topics?

00:06:07 - Jo Coxhill

Well, it's definitely sticky, isn't it? So, yeah, I think we're going to have some fun. Right. So I'm going to have to be careful about why I divulge and how I tell some stories. But, yeah, I think, you know, there's a lot of stuff that I hear either with the conversations I'm having with leaders or other, you know, kind of industry experts or in house people in HR and comms and so on. But also, you know, anyone, any of my friends, any of my family, some of the… and I'm going to say horror stories that I'm hearing from friends in particular that are having these mandated return to office kind of policies rolled out and kind of forced upon them. That's how they feel, and it will come onto it, but some of their horror stories and how they're just really grappling on a number of different areas with it. Yeah, I think I'm happy to go with this as a topic and a title for the session.

00:07:07 - Andy Goram

Okay. Well, I think if I was a sound effects guy, I'd have some muffled screams in the background when you mentioned the word horror stories when it comes to sort of this episode. And I won't get you to breach client confidentiality, but we could… We can make up names and we can play the old crime watch piece. This is a reconstruction. Okay, so what do you think this agenda should be for us today?

The Real Hot Topics

00:07:30 - Jo Coxhill

Well, I guess it's things that I'm seeing or hearing are hot topics in the industry, but there's ones that I'm hugely passionate about. So it is hybrid working. I guess my involvement with hybrid working happened way before COVID hit and before hybrid working was even a term. It used to be called smart working, and it's been about for years. And I worked for a company doing all of their marketing materials. They're an office based design company, so I would write all their blogs in the marketing content, all about organisational culture, the psychology of the workspace, and all of that sort of stuff. So, you know, like my... This is something that's been a real passion for me for many, many years, about ten years now. And so I find it fascinating to see how we as society and as businesses are navigating this journey.

But then the other side of the coin is the wellbeing, right. Since the pandemic, the rise in burnout and what's causing that and really getting under the skin of the real root causes of burnout and workplace stress, rather than just putting sticky plasters over it. And then I think the other thing is inclusion. I guess there's two sides to that coin. There's one side of the story which is saying that leaders and businesses are getting bored of diversity and inclusion, or they think it's done or they've given up on it. And then the other side of the coin is that it's absolutely critical and crucial, and, you know, there's so much more that we've got to do on it. So, for me, it's something that I want to make sure stays on the agenda for the conversations that I'm having.

00:09:10 - Andy Goram

I just think a lot of these. I'm giggling, not in a rude way, but I think a lot of things we're talking about, they're part of the infinite game. To think that you have completed diversity and inclusion is a nonsense, really?

00:09:24 - Jo Coxhill


00:09:24 - Andy Goram

But listen, before I start impacting my views on everybody, let's. Let's. Let's take a step back. I've called you an employee listener, and there's not to be confused with horse whisperers or, as I saw on LinkedIn the other day, the CEO whisperer. What does that mean to you? If I put you in the bracket of employee listener, how would you describe what you do?

What Is Employee Listening?

00:09:45 - Jo Coxhill

Well, I guess I landed on employee listening last year when I was thinking about, I can go out, relaunch my businesses. I can get involved in strategic communications and comms audits, or I could become the hybrid working specialist, the specialist in burnout or whatever and whatever it was, I just kept thinking, any of those things, if you dial it right back, it all comes down to, for me, a starting point of listening to employees. And so it means that I have the joy of being able to get involved in a vast range of things that I feel really passionate about, and the springboard for that is listening to the employees first and foremost. So often I go into companies to carry out some sort of a listening audit. I present the findings back to the leaders or whoever's brought me in to do that, head of HR or whatever. And usually then that's the start of the conversation for,

Okay, this is great. We're going to take some action. Do you want to stick around and help us to do that?”

Or confession time? They'll take that information, and then they'll chuck it in the bin and do nothing with it. And it's been a complete waste of time for everybody. Or they'll tap into the bits that they want to tap into and they'll act on those and they'll totally ignore the bits that they don't want to deal with. And it's, you know, usually it's. They're the bits that, that play to their personal or their company agenda or that kind of align with whatever internal politics are going on within that business.

00:11:13 - Andy Goram

Yeah. Just trying to find a way to justify the strategy that's already been written. Yeah, perfect. And just pick up what you said. Do you know what? You can absolutely roll out these things without engaging with your employees and involving them. You can absolutely roll them out. They just won't ever land as successfully or with any kind of sustainability as they could. When you stepped into this, because you've done a bit of the okey cokey, you've been in corporations outside, inside, outside. What was it that ultimately drove you to come back out? There must have been something you thought, you know what I keep seeing the same thing or the same problems are arising. What for you was the problem that you were trying to solve?

00:11:54 - Jo Coxhill

I probably would say that it's getting control back in my life, or claiming my power back in my life and getting that work life balance. In fact, I didn't know I was going to go back on my own last year until I had conversation with a coach and we just had my first offloading session. At the end of it, she was like,

I don't normally do this, but I really think you should consider working for yourself again.”

And I was like, really? And she was like, yeah, you know, everything that you're saying and just the way you are, you know, kind of, you know, you should really think about doing that. And so that really, then I said, oh, I'm at a crossroads. And when I really reflected, I was so far down the road of working for myself again that, you know, kind of, there was no going back, really.

And, yeah, I just, you know, I think I don't do politics. I just can't do it. And the difference when you're, when you're a consultant going into a business, you can keep all of the politics at arm's length. You can always have this approach that I'm here, I'm giving my advice, you know, this is how I would do it. You're trusted for your opinion because you're considered to be an expert. When you go in house, it's very different ballgame the psychology is like, you've got to fit in. You've got to do the politics. And even if you try really hard not to, it just comes to get to you eventually. And then, you know, kind of, there's, I don't know, there's just a lot more, you know, kind of questioning of your abilities and your skills and your, you know, kind of. It's got to be considered a lot more. I don't know. Anyway, I didn't quite like it being back in house.

Common Misconceptions Of Employee Listening

00:13:31 - Andy Goram

Listen, I think that can also come down to the, to the client, too. You know, I suspect, you know, if you haven't a battle every day to convince a client that this is the right thing to do, it's probably not right for either one of you, really, because you're never going to enjoy working for them and they're going to get frustrated by you. I think, you know, where you've got the marry-up of people who can see there's a problem and want help, but don't really necessarily know exactly what to do or don't feel confident doing that, and they bring someone in like, like you who can do that, that relationship is always more positive, always more productive than having to sort of prove everything to each other with within an inch of doubt before something, something happens. But when, when you do go into businesses, what are some of the dangers, preconceptions, misconceptions, whatever you want to call them, that you have found the most common when thinking about or dealing with the topic of employee listening? Maybe this is the cue for the first horror scream. I don't know. What's playing out most often that you see.

00:14:41 - Jo Coxhill

I think it can be one of two things. You can go in and you've got these leaders that are like, absolutely. We want to give our employees a voice, and I really want to hear what they have to say and value all of this. And they're just like you just described. We're in sync and we know that whatever we find out or whatever we hear, we can have action on it and it's going to drive the business forward. And there is that kind of trust and alignment. The other thing is when you go into businesses and they're kind of like, okay, well, we've got this hypothesis. This is what we think. We want you to go and do the listening. And they almost expect the listening to confirm what they think. And then when I do the listening, if it doesn't confirm what they think and I present something back to them, then it's like,

Oh, that isn't what we wanted to do.”

And it's back to what we were saying earlier about whether they then are prepared to take the listening on the face value and act on what they've heard or whether they're going to, you know, shove it away or, you know, kind of do nothing because it isn't in line with what their hypothesis or their, you know, their preconceived ideas are.

00:15:49 - Andy Goram

Yeah, you must have asked the wrong questions. It doesn't line up to the answers that we want.

00:15:55 - Jo Coxhill


00:15:56 - Andy Goram

Oh, let's try some other questions. We'll find some questions that get us the answers we want. Never a good thing. Never a good thing.

00:16:02 - Jo Coxhill

Or, you know, that you, you're appointed by somebody in the business, not the leaders. And so you do that. Do that, and then, you know, kind of you, you, or they present that to the leaders and then it gets shut down at that point, you know, so it's kind of, I think that's a learning for me, though. So, you know, as I go in, it's kind of like, well, okay, you appointed me, but what, you know, what approval have we got? What year have we got with the leaders? Is it supported wholeheartedly. So for me, there's some, some more checkpoints to make sure that are done, depending on who my stakeholder is.

Is Employee Listening Just A Fashionable Thing?

00:16:33 - Andy Goram

I'm interested to sort of get your opinion on whether you think the employee listening thing is just a fashionable thing, or whether there is genuine thirst for this sort of stuff. Because for me, it's all connected to the, to the engagement topic that is connected to the culture topic. And, when I started doing well, even this podcast, and certainly my switch from corporate into, into life, you know, the last 20 years before that, employee engagement had been stagnant. Billions and millions of pounds and dollars spent on the topic of engagement, and nothing had changed. And then we've seen opportunity to change and stop the world through Pandemic. We've measured engagement pre and post pandemic. We have not recovered pre pandemic levels. My very good friends at Engage for Success have just done their kind of update on the sort of state of the nation when it comes to work and engagement and thriving. And surprise, surprise, their latest update says,

Yeah, nothing's changed. Engagement still hasn't moved anywhere, and we're still behind pre-Pandemic levels.”

So this whole idea of listening to employees and finding out what really is going on and what's needed, I mean, is it working or are we just paying lip service to it? I mean, what are you seeing, Jo?

00:17:57 - Jo Coxhill

First of all, when I started saying I'm going to do employee listening, there wasn't really much talk about it at all. And it has kind of boomed a bit in the last, you know, kind of eight months or so, hasn't it?

00:18:08 - Andy Goram


00:18:08 - Jo Coxhill

And I think, you know, that's good. And we can definitely kind of thank a few people for putting it on the agenda. And that's good because I think that's where it'll start getting momentum. I think that there are certain companies and leaders that value the employee voice, and that's where it comes into its own.

So when I go and talk to leaders or whatever, and they're like, yes, you know, employees are really important to us. They're front and centre. They're really valued. That's when the listening exercises, like, you know, propel the achievement and success and the engagement and so on. But there are also a lot of other companies that just aren't there culturally. You know, they're very much more stuck in this parent-child kind of relationship and, you know, very much in the mindset that leaders have got to know everything and they've got to tell them what's happening and that sort of stuff. And so I guess the beauty for me as a freelancer is that I can choose who I want to work with or that the leaders choose me because they know that they need to do it. So it's a really easy conversation, and I'm not going to go knocking on the door of the companies that kind of don't prioritize that or see the value in it. So I guess that's the first thing.

It will gain traction as we do start to share the stories of the successes of, you know, when we do do the listening, you always see in the news all the horror stories, don't you? You know, like the forced mandates to return to office as an example or, you know, kind of, you know, the high rates of stress in organisations. What we don't do enough of, and this is just like symptomatic of us as human beings, which does get my goat, is that we never celebrate successes. We never talk about the good things that happen in the world. And it's exactly the same in, you know, in, in businesses. Apart from people come and tell their case studies at industry events, we don't hear so much and we don't, you know, kind of celebrate all the good companies, and there are so many of them that are doing a really good job of employee listening, you know, putting their employees front and centre, you know, treating the employee experience just like the customer experience, you know, successfully implementing hybrid, having a really good approach to organisation, to wellbeing. So, you know, everyone's happy and engaged. We just don't hear enough about that, I don't think.

Hard To Find Great UK Examples Of Successful Culture Change

00:20:27 - Andy Goram

Listen, putting my content creator hat on, which is a really ill-fitting hat, let's be honest. Right? It's really hard to find really good examples of UK companies, particularly, UK companies that have implemented successful change, you know, turned around cultures, made the most of employee involvement, all these bits and pieces. And I know that there are great companies, great individuals, great organisations, fantastic movements happening out there, but it's pretty hard to find them.

America, there's a lot of us stuff and people get a bit annoyed occasionally if, you know, if I talk about too many us examples or I have too many us people speaking on this podcast, but they’re more open, it seems to me at least, a bit more open about this stuff and not afraid to tell the stories. I would just like to pick up on what you said about the listening and the hypothesis that some organisations have, and maybe I’ll ask you a question about whether you see this as a potential pitfall or not. I think there’s quite a fine line between democracy and employee listening because I have a theory that some businesses do what you've said, that they'll listen but not do anything with it because it doesn't align to strategy and what have you, is that there's this preconception that when we listen, we have to do everything that someone then says.And that just doesn't really work in business. Listing doesn't mean,

Right. We now have to get massive consensus with everybody.”

But we have to listen to understand what the issues are, what the opportunities are, what some of the suggestions are. But at the end of the day, it still does come down at some point for the leadership to make a decision. Sometimes that will align with popular feeling, sometimes it might be difficult and have to, well, not go with popular feeling for lots of other reasons. But I think our ability to communicate those things clearly so it involve and get people to participate and that is lovely and easy when everything aligns and we're all good. But I think the real tough stuff and I think where employee listing and comms really kind of move to a different level is actually when things don't align, the communication is just as involving, just as strong. And it will explain why we can't do some of the things that we would like to do, or perhaps we can't do them right now, because we have to have other priorities. Is that what you're encountering? Do you see that? Do you see the mistake of, oh, if I ask, I've got to do everything. It's got to be a democracy.

Employee Listening Doesn't Mean Democracy

00:23:06 - Jo Coxhill

100%. You know, and I say that all the time, you know, just because you're giving your employees a voice, it doesn't mean that they are the, you know, kind of the tail wagging the dog and that they hold all the cards. I can't remember. I saw it recently, but, you know, there was some stat, I don't know what it is, but it was like just for employees, just feeling heard, just having an opportunity to have a say and to share their views, opinions, thoughts, you know, whatever, is enough to step up that engagement and to make people feel more engaged. And then I think you're right, it comes down to open, transparent, timely communications. That's right from the start, we're going to, you know, we're going to launch this listening exercise. It doesn't mean that everything we hear or everything you say is going to be put into place, but it will go into that melting pot and it will help us to form, you know, the right decision and the right conclusions. Because it's all against a backdrop of we're running a business and we're here to do whatever, whether that's make money, be profitable, serve our customers. You know, whatever it is, it's always on that backdrop.

And so I think if you go into it with that really open, transparently what we're doing, why we're doing it, what we're not going to do, and then if you do it as your first ever exercise or whatever, and you prove that we have listened, we've done this, we're not doing this. These are the reasons why we're not doing it. We might do these in the future, then what you're doing is you're creating that circle of trust, aren't you? So the next time you ask people, then they're more likely to contribute again. And that's where, you know, kind of the trust and that whole kind of the culture of openness and everything really kind of starts to come into play.

And I think then what you'll get is very often, particularly in hybrid, you've got this, like, you know

Me, I'm the employee and I can't come back to the office because I have to pick my children up from school now

or, you know, whatever it is, and it's because we're not Joining those two bits up. And when we're not confidently having those conversations and creating that narrative so that we realize actually, you know, you do pay my bills, you know, and I am here to do a Job. And it's not just about what I need to do because I want to go to the gym in the morning. I don't want the commute and, you know, that sort of stuff. So, yeah, I think you're right. It comes down to transparency, timely, good communications, and, yeah, just laying the stall out. Right. This is what we're doing. This is not what we're not doing.

"The Mandate To Return" To The Office

00:25:32 - Andy Goram

And some consistency with it. And a bit like this, you know, completing inclusion, it's an ongoing thing. It's not a one-off conversation. You know, a conversation isn't done in two parts over six months. It's ongoing  dialogue. Right. And I think that's. That's where you build the trust and the understanding. And some things you see happen as a result of that conversation or feedback or suggestion. And sometimes you see things actually turned down, but the conversation continues. We've mentioned hybrid a couple of times, and I'm keen to sort of hear some of the good, the bad, the ugly with regard to some of these hot topics hybrid, and particularly this, the mandate to return. Cue music. That's going on because we've gone, I think, yinning and yanging about everybody's got to come back. No one's ever got to come back. Officers are dead. Offices are alive. What is going on? What are you seeing? Because it just feels like a mess to me still.

00:26:33 - Jo Coxhill

Yeah. So I think you've called it the yin and the yang, I've always said it's a pendulum, right? And it's going to swing, swing, swing back and forth until it does set on that, like, equilibrium. And it could take. Still take quite a while. Even though we're four years out of COVID you know, I think it will still take a while as companies like navigate this. And it's going to be different for every single company. There is no one size fits all approach, and every company's got to figure out the right cadence and way of working for them. It feels to me right now that we're very much kind of almost going back to even, you know, draconian methods that we didn't even have before COVID you know, it's very much. We're gonna tag you into the office. We're gonna tag you out. You know, if you don't come in for the three days you're told to come in, then you will not be getting your promotion and you won't be getting a pay rise. And, you know, it's probably going a little bit. What's that? Probably? In my opinion, it is going, like, a little bit too far and too extreme.

And I touched on it earlier, and I really do want to kind of say I am supportive of hybrid working, but I'm not supportive of it being employee-led. So, as I said earlier, I don't believe that any of us who are in full time employment should be feeling entitled or that we shouldn't be going to meetings or we shouldn't be in the office because we're doing the school run or because we've got caring responsibilities or because we want to go to the gym or because we moved away from the office during COVID and it's now a five hour commute for me. You know, I think there's... we've got to remember that we're in a contract and a relationship with our employers, and we're there first and foremost in work to deliver on the work's goals, objectives, and our goals and objectives. Now, if the company, you know, if we can make it so that we have that work life balance and we can do things, and that's fine, but if we want to go and do the school run every day, then we should really look at flexible working, you know, and agreed, flexible working, rather than, you know, kind of using hybrid to allow us to do that. So, I think that's really important because sometimes I think it gets misunderstood that I'm like, all for the employee voice. And like we just said, you know, the employee has it gets what they want. And it's not that. That's not my position at all.

But then on the flip side, I don't agree with blanket return to offices with no research or no reason or rhyme to it. And it's just like, well, you know, you got me back in the office three days a week because the offices are empty, or because we're not being productive. But we can't give you any of the figures about why and where we're not being productive. And without us even providing the right tools, technology, office space and design to facilitate real, true and effective hybrid working. So we're saying three days in the office, all of your team are not in the office because they're all over the world or based in another office, but you've still come into this office to work, even though you're going to be in Teams calls all day because you're collaborating with other people, for example. So yeah, I think it is a bit of a mess, and I do think quite a bit has got to change and it can be done right. And I have done it right. And many, you know, many companies are doing it right.

A Hybrid Working Framework

00:30:00 - Andy Goram

I think doing it right is the issue here, isn't it? Because I think people are looking for the template that works everywhere. I don't think they exist because I think all situations are different. There may be some principles that we've all got to kind of adhere to, but I think the implementation of those things is going to be different in each case. I was interested to read, and by the way, I need to read more because I haven't read all of the detail, but I thought it was interesting. I saw a piece on LinkedIn, I think actually, Katie McCauley, who's been on this podcast before, shared it. That's how I picked it up in that EY have been looking at hybrid working for a good number of years now and looking at how to involve employees in that. And they have built a framework that they're using to have employee conversations, actually employees to have conversations, to sort of co create some simple, understandable ways of working that cover five areas.

Let me give you these five areas and see if that matches up to what, what you're seeing as well, one being Focus. So the ability for people to be able to get on and focus on their work. This question, which is maybe the biggest elephant in the room around Flexibility. Impact, which I read to be the impact that you're having on other people, but the impact you're receiving from either being together or being dispersed, the continuous piece around Development. And then the final thing, which I. I think is the most important is the connection, which I think is one of the major issues around cultural problems that maybe some of the hybrid working is causing that loss of or time to connect with the people we work for. So they're working around those sort of five key areas to try and put some, if you like, workplace norms together. How does that sound to you? I've just dropped it on you, but what do you reckon?

00:32:00 - Jo Coxhill

I think it's good. You know, it does seem to cover a lot of the pain points or a lot of the topics that we're talking about, you know, the reasons for going back to the office. Definitely, you know, all of those, I think are really important. It reminds me a bit of when I was in house at a leasing financial services company.

00:32:20 - Andy Goram

Oh, we're masking a company!

00:32:23 - Jo Coxhill

No, this is not a confession. This is I guess I think a really good example of how hybrid working was approached. Of course, I was on the team.

00:32:33 - Andy Goram

Of course, Jo. There we go.

Hybrid Working - A Success Story

00:32:35 - Jo Coxhill

But I still now think, I haven't spoke to the guys lately. I should probably just check to make sure that it's still running okay. But on the last time I checked, it was still running okay. And I think the approach we took there was, was just gold because we did start off by listening. So we talked to everybody in the business, leaders, managers, all employees. We'd done it a few weeks, a few years before when we were launching our values, and we did it with the big sofa. So in the offices, we had this gorgeous sofa out in the garden in the summer. We got everybody just come and chat and talk about what life was like. And so we did it. We rolled the big sofa out virtually, because we were all in lockdowns at the time. And straight away people were like,

Oh, wow. Yeah, we remember when we did the big sofa

and, you know, it's just, it generated good, positive vibes. They knew what happened as a result of it. So everyone just came and, you know, just talked openly about what an ideal hybrid working way would be for them. And it was, you know, it covered everything. What about you personally? What about your team? How would we engage with customers? All the whole thing. And so that was the basis of it.

And then what we did is we created our kind of company wide guiding principles. So they were what we needed the baseline for hybrid working to be effective. And it covered similar things. So this is why it's reminded me of this now. So, you know, we were like, we set up minimum time in the office. We've got to talk about time versus days as well. This, we've got to. So we had a minimum time in the office of 20% of your working week needed to be in the office. But we also talked, you know, our principles were a bit work where you're most productive. We, not me. That's what I've been talking about quite a lot, isn't it? Space is allocated to the activity that you need to do, not to the individual. Tech, so, you know, we knew we needed to have the right tech to enable people to work hybrid effectively. You know, performance was based on outcome, not output. And then we looked at all things like inclusion, well being, sustainability. It's a huge topic that we don't really take into account much or we don't talk that much when it comes to hybrid.

And then what we did is we empowered every single team to go and work out their team principles and their way of working. And so IT, they landed on 80% of their work week needed to be in the office because they were a service provider to people who were going to be in the office as well as at home, and they needed to make sure they had presence. HR, we're like, we're going to do about 40%. We'll always have somebody here, but we can do a lot of the stuff we can, you know, that we need to do by Teams or whatever just as much as in person. And Internal Comms, we were like, well, we're going to do 20% because we're here, there and everywhere at any time, like, so we'll set our baseline at 20, but we know we could do 101 week 120 another week, you know, whatever. We're going to be where we need to be. And then, you know, Customer Ops or Customer Service, they were like, well, you know, kind of 100% money because we need to be in the office to do what we do. So that's the outcome from that was that everybody had had a say, everybody had a hand in developing their team way of working. They had to take into account their teammates, their stakeholders within the business, their stakeholders outside of the business, and then work that out. And then, guess what? We trialled it. We did a pilot.

00:36:04 - Andy Goram


00:36:05 - Jo Coxhill

We didn't roll it out and say, this is it, you know, done and completed. We engaged managers. They were our biggest blocker because they wanted it to be the way they wanted to work. So we had to do a lot of work on coaching, training, writing, support materials so that they understood the whole kind of premise behind hybrid working. And it's not about, well, I know I work best when I know my team are in front of me and I know they're doing their Job. We had to do loads of stuff on that. Probably didn't do enough. That's my biggest reflection. There was a lot more we need to do. I think a lot of businesses are the same. We did the pilot, we got feedback from everybody. We took all of that on board, we adapted, and then, then we embedded it. And as far as I know, that's the way that we're still working in that business now.

So I think it's a really good example of how it can be done taking into account all of the variables that we have to take into account. And it just reminds me a bit of this EY, one of some of the topics there, their principles that they're basing it on. So, yeah, I think it's great. I'm going to go and do my research on EY as well.

Which Companies Are Faring Better With Burnout?

00:37:13 - Andy Goram

I just thought it was an interesting framework. I think the five pieces there ticked a lot of the, I guess, the boxes in my head that I see or hear about myself. I just wonder whether in all of this, when we talked about things linking the two things I think are probably important in all those conversations, maybe this is where the impact thing comes in, the impact this team has on others, because we can all look at what we would like to do in isolation of those departments and then actually, then the jigsaw doesn't fit together, so we're happy with what we've got. If it doesn't really help your customer or doesn't help your internal customer. You've got to take a more holistic view of those things.

But I think what's really, really interesting, and maybe I'd like to touch on some burnout and we're sort of talking about inclusion, but I'd like to talk about some burnout stuff, too, before we run out of time. In that there's this always on nature, I think, of work even more so. Yeah, right. And so when you look at guys who are doing great stuff around, we're talking hybrid working, but just working. Are those the guys that are faring better when it comes to burnout or are you seeing kind of universal burnout stuff? Is there a link? Do you see? Do you see a link?

00:38:35 - Jo Coxhill

Yes, I would say so. Because the people that are doing hybrid well, their culture is based on trust, empowerment, kind of autonomy. We're doing this together, unity, all that sort of stuff. Whereas I think where you've got higher levels of burnout, that's because the culture is, and this is my biggest thing, right, so you can't just offer yoga and, I don't know, meditation and a good EAP and say, right, that's it, well being sorted. If your culture, if your values, your behaviours, your rituals are fundamentally flawed.

So if your leadership can't ruthlessly prioritize and protect people from like this, always on culture or this, deliver, deliver, you know, productivity, profit, profit, profit, then, you know, people are just always going. If the behaviours within that business are all about, well, I'm going to email you at 10:00 and, you know, I don't expect you to reply, but really you've got to reply or you feel that you've got to reply or you're working all hours because you've got these deadline to deliver all the time. That's where burnout is going to start manifesting. And by the time it is full blown burnout, it's too late to do anything about that. So for me to really banish burnout in the workplace, we've got to look at our culture, our rituals, our behaviours, and that comes from the top and from the leaders.

00:40:09 - Andy Goram

Sing into the choir hallelujah on all of that stuff. Jo, you just hit my kind of jackpot button. Look, I couldn't agree more with you on that. I think the interesting thing here is also this, I don't know whether someone will fact check me, I'm sure, and it's fine because I like to put right, but this misnomer about productivity, about being how long we work. I mean, I think certainly in the UK, we've not been at the top of the charts of productivity for goodness knows how long. Right? And yet we have some of the longest working hours in, in Europe. Again, fact check me. I think those are broadly. Broadly correct. So we've got to kind of like break this link between, I mean, you've mentioned time before, or hours or whatever it might be, and putting people in a situation where they can work at their best, deliver great results in an efficient and effective manner, rather than you got to be in here eight and a half hours a day where I can see you constantly on your screen. I'll track you. That can't be a sustainable thing going forward. Just can't.

00:41:21 - Jo Coxhill

No, no, well, no, in so many ways. I mean, you can be present in the office, but it doesn't mean you're being productive. Right?

What's The Gold Standard Of Employee Listening?

00:41:28 - Andy Goram

Oh God. I mean, how many times did I used to walk around the office and look at people's screens and like, really? You're gonna buy another one of those, are you? There's very little productivity going on in that sense. And people were there very, very, you know, long hours. I think the opportunity that we've had over the last few years is to kind of reshape some of these things, right? And take a different view. But like you said, not losing sight of, we've got shit to do here, we've got some things we've got to kind of deliver. If you were looking at some of the best examples of all of these things coming together. So avoiding of burnout, really understanding ways of working, hybrid stuff, inclusivity when it comes to listening to employees, is there a gold standard that you, that you see? Are there some things that kind of stick out for you?

00:42:20 - Jo Coxhill

I think it comes down to leadership for me. You know, like, you know, we talk about, you know, leading with empathy and, you know, kind of servant leadership. And I just think the leaders that really value their employees, they even admit that they don't have all the answers and that together we'll come up with the answers. And you guys actually have probably got better ideas than I have, and, you know, let's do it. You know, that those that can admit that and embrace that and really want to unite all of their employees and allow them to grow and flourish, that's where the real magic is going to happen, isn't it?

Solving The Problem Of Communication

00:42:59 - Andy Goram

I think so. I think so. Which maybe leads me on to sort of a penultimate type question, really, to try and pull these things together. We've said on a couple occasions already, all these little hot topics all seem to cross over. And you're sitting in there not just on the comms, on the internal construct, but trying to sort of, like, knit these things together. If. If you did have a magic wand, and you may well have one, Jo, but you've never shown it to me. If you had a magic wand and you could completely eradicate or build a solution to a problem with communication inside organisations that would kind of, like, Join all these things together and make things better, what would you use that wand for?

00:43:42 - Jo Coxhill

Oh. What a question.

00:43:43 - Andy Goram


00:43:47 - Jo Coxhill

I mean, if it's from a magic wand point of view, I like to live in a world where there's Harmony, you know? So I think, yeah, like, no, no politics and everyone just feeling that they're equitable and that they do have a voice for that, you know, that psychological safety and that sense of belonging just to create. Yeah. Nice, harmonious kind of environment. Maybe that's my personal ten-year goal, is to grow vision 29 and prove that it is possible to kind of create that, and, you know, that it doesn't have to be unrewarding in going to work every day.

00:44:25 - Andy Goram

There's a massive difference between politics and challenge, by the way, you know, politics is all the rubbish that people get embroiled in, I think. Certainly when I was in corporate, you. You're playing that even unconsciously, you're playing that even if you're someone. I don't do politics. Well, the very statement that you don't do politics, you are politicking right there and then. But I think when you come out of that situation, you walk back in, you can smell it a mile off. I love a bit of harmony. I love a bit of consensus, but without that, we can get a bit flabby. So I think having an environment where we've got that kind of common understanding and set the common goals. But we know we've got an environment where actually I can challenge stuff and I can contribute stuff. I mean, that's… why would that be such a bad play? Why wouldn't you want that? I mean, if you're going to use the wand for that purpose, Jo, I'm all for it, mate. I'll go and I'm going to see the Warner brothers Harry Potter studios in a couple of weeks time. I'll pick up a one for you. If you're going to put it to that sort of good use, that'd be great.

Now we've come to the part in the show I call sticky notes. So when it comes to effective employee listening, purposeful employee listening, what advice would you give to anybody listening here that you could fit on three little sticky notes?

Sticky Notes Of Wisdom

00:45:45 - Jo Coxhill

So I would say listening is a superpower. I would say for leaders, just do it, embrace it. Don't be afraid. You know, there's nothing wrong that's going to come from it. And for employees, I'd say, don't expect everything you say to be acted upon.

00:46:04 - Andy Goram

Pause on those for a sec. I mean, the superpower thing is great because I think we can take some of this stuff for complete granted that, oh, well, anybody can say something, anybody can listen something. It's creating an environment where people feel okay to talk, okay to share, okay to challenge, but then realise something's going to happen. Either something positive is going to happen, or there's going to be a response. Response. You know, if we were having a chat, we're having a chat on this podcast, it'd be an awful episode, if I ask you a question and you don't like the answer to that question, so you don't bother answering, you just sit there in silence. I mean, that's what's going on in businesses every day. And I think the sort of things that you've talked about today, the environments that you've talked about, the simple little techniques that you've talked about today, if you just take two or three of those things, the world of world will be a better place, I think.

00:46:58 - Jo Coxhill

Yeah, I agree.

Final Thoughts

00:47:01 - Andy Goram

Jo, I've loved having you on. We've talked about coming on and having a natter and recording for a long time, and finally we've done it, mate. We finally done it right. And so where can people find you, Jo? Where's the best place to seek you out?

00:47:14 - Jo Coxhill

Definitely LinkedIn. So I'm sure I'm quite easy to find. Just search my name. But yeah, I post on there most days, Monday to Friday. A mixture of opinions, reflections. I go to a lot of events, so usually do some roundups of events and so on. So, yeah, always, always posting and happy to engage with other people.

00:47:37 - Andy Goram

Brilliant. Well, I'll put those links in the show notes at the end of the show.

00:47:39 - Jo Coxhill

Thank you.

00:47:40 - Andy Goram

Thanks so much for coming on, mate. You take care, and I know I'll speak again soon.

00:47:44 - Jo Coxhill

Definitely. Take care. Thank you.

Podcast Close

00:47:46 - Andy Goram

Okay, bye bye. Okay, everyone, that was Jo Coxhill, and if you'd like to find out a bit more about her or any of the things we've talked about today, please check out the show notes.

So that concludes today's episode. I hope you've enjoyed it, found it interesting, and heard something maybe that will help you become a stickier, more successful business from the inside going forwards. If you have, please, like, comment and subscribe. It really helps. I'm Andy Goram, and you've been listening to the Sticky from the Inside podcast. Until next time, thanks for listening.

Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer, an employee engagement and workplace culture consultancy that's on a mission to help people have more fulfilling work lives. He's also the host of the Sticky From The Inside Podcast, which talks to experts on these topics from around the world. 

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