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  • Writer's pictureAndy Goram

What's Happened To Employee Engagement?

The Pandemic has had a severe impact on the levels of employee engagement in the UK. But trying to uncover what has actually happened, who has faired better, and why, has been virtually impossible, until now.


In November 2022, Engage For Success, the UK's leading voice on employee engagement shared the results of a nationwide survey which sought to find the answers to these questions and more. The findings were both interesting and enlightening, confirming some things we suspected, but also shedding new light on what's happened and what actions have had the biggest impact.


In this 60th episode of the popular employee engagement podcast, Sticky From The Inside, Andy Goram talks to Sarah Pass, Senior Lecturer at Nottingham Business School, part of Nottingham Trent University and James Court-Smith, Data Scientist and Director at Stillae, and who are both Engage For Success Board Members, about their new, definitive report into what has happened to employee engagement, pre, during and post the Pandemic. They pick out the key points that separate the winners from the losers, clarify the implications, and make clear recommendations as to the way to improve things going forwards.


Below is a full transcript of the conversation, but you can also listen here.


Plus you can get access to the full employee engagement in 2022 report with this link.


Two men and a women discuss employee engagement in the UK
James Court-Smith (far left), Sarah Pass (middle) and Andy Goram (right) discuss the ffect of the Pandemic on employee engagement in the UK

Andy Goram (00:10):

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 wanna take the tricky out of being sticky, listen on.


(01:10):

Okay, then looking back, if my family Christmas and New Year was anything to go by, we are still very much living with the continued effects of the pandemic. And I'm sure that's also the case when we look at our working world too. There's been an awful lot of chat about what is happening isn't happening, is working isn't working. Frankly, it often contradicts each other. Sometimes it's hard to tell what's factual and what is based on nothing more than someone having a hunch. Well, today, I'm pretty hopeful we're gonna put that straight. For the last two or three years I've been a volunteer for Engagement Success, which is the UK's leading voice on employee engagement. And it's a movement made up entirely of volunteers who give up their time and expertise to help shine a light on best practice and look to inspire people and workplaces to thrive.


(02:09):

Now I love being involved in the movement and I, I really enjoy getting to Meek and work with some of the best and brightest people in the field of employee engagement and workplace culture. And today I'm hosting two fabulous people from Engage for Success who are gonna help us, I hope, see the wood for the trees and really tell us what the effects of the last few years are having on the state of employee engagement in the UK. Now, in November of last year, engage for Success shared the results of a national survey that looked to get some definitive answers on the state of UK engagement and hopefully set some form of benchmark for us to use going forwards in a special event. Last year, the headlines of the research were shared. So what did we learn? Did engagement drop over the pandemic? What's happened since and why is that?


(03:04):

And were there any clear reasons why some organisations performed so much better than others? And what are the implications for us all going forwards? I mean, so many questions. Well with me today to try and clear some of the fog of Sarah Pass and James Cole Smith. Sarah is a senior lecturer at the Nottingham Business School part of Nottingham Trent University, and as well as performing many other roles in the movement. Sarah is an engaged success board member. James is a director at St a, where he provides database consulting to executive teams, helping them have more constructive discussions and effective decision making in complex business situations. And like Sarah, he's also a major contributor to engagement, success and a board member there too. Now they've both got a real passion for this stuff and a knack for bringing the data to life, so I can't wait for them to share what they found out. And so really, that's enough whittling from me. Sarah, James, welcome to the show.


Sarah Pass (04:07):

Thank you Andy.


James Court-Smith (04:09):

Thanks Andy. Yeah, great to be here.


Andy Goram (04:11):

It's really great to have you both here. I'm a proper geek for this stuff, so I have to work very hard today to contain myself to the boundaries of the show. There's only so much time we've got, there's only so many questions. I guess I can legitimately fire at you, but I'm really interested to sort of get into it as soon as we can. But before that, just to give my listeners a bit of a better understanding about who you are and what you do, could you just give us a sort of a potted history of who you are, what you're up to, and particularly what you're focused on currently. Perhaps you'd like to go first, Sarah.


Sarah Pass (04:46):

Yeah, thank you Andy. So as you said, I work at Nottingham Trent University as a senior lecturer. So I kind of spend my day job with postgraduates and executive students which is the part I enjoy because we talk about what's going on in their organisations and also enable them to see the different research projects that we do and, and help bring some that theory to life. I like to have a foot in the academic camp and a foot in their practitioner camp. Try to, to bridge the two between those two often divides.


Andy Goram (05:17):

And you do so many things within Engage For Success. If I look at any of the groups or any of the discussions that are going on or any of the events that are being led, you seem to be there, Sarah.


Sarah Pass (05:28):

<laugh> <laugh>. Yeah. Well, I think that, yeah, hopefully still welcomed in all those <laugh>. Hopefully everybody's starting to go "It's Sarah again." Yes, I, I just love research. I'm very passionate about sort of that employee experience at workas you said already, you know, engaged with Access, a fantastic movement to be part of. I've been involved in research for over 20 years and I've never been involved with a group of people that are so not just warm and open, but encouraging and to share. And I think that's really quite, quite unique to the concept of engagement. How you can get a group of people from sometimes even competing organisations sharing around concepts and, and issues around engagement. So it's a fantastic movement. And just to give it a plug, if anybody's thinking of volunteering, I highly recommend it.


Andy Goram (06:17):

<laugh>. We will put all the links to that in the show notes so people can kind of easily get access to Engage For Success. And I think those two things around belonging and involvement absolutely do ring true when you sort of like work with guys in Engage For Success or EFS as we call it. And James, how about you? You tell us a little bit about yourself.


James Court-Smith (06:35):

Yeah, no thanks Andy. Really, I'm a data scientist, which means that often engagement data, survey data is just one more round of KPIs. It's one more sort of set of metrics. So you know, anything from sales data, operational information, all of that gets pulled together. But my background is in survey research and I ran the, my first employee engagement survey was in 1998, would you believe? I was the lead, lead researcher. Yeah. So go, going back quite a while. and at the moment in my day job, I'm focused on updating a nice predictive risk algorithm that we have with a large manufacturer. It's been running for about five years and with EFS apart from this great conversation today, I'm also working on a survey that we have just completed with contingency workers. So looking to see what their experience is in the UK as well.


Andy Goram (07:31):

I suspect since 1998 to today, you've seen a fair amount of change with how engagement surveys work, are constructed, used, understood all those good things.


James Court-Smith (07:41):

Not nearly enough change <laugh>, if I'm honest,


Andy Goram (07:44):

<laugh>, there's the nub of the issue right there. Hopefully we'll try and, I dunno, move things on a bit with this conversation this morning. I'm really looking forward to it. So the background to this survey then, guys, where did it come from?


Sarah Pass (07:58):

As part of engagement success? We have these thought and action groups which are groups of people who come from a variety of backgrounds variety of different levels who are interested in a particular area or subject around engagement. And I lead one which focuses on the role of the line manager. Now. We've done quite a bit of research. We have a number of different organisations, both case study research and workshops and, and, and lots of different events looking at the role of the line manager and we were about to pull all that together into a report when the pandemic hit. So lots of things got put on hold, but also when we then started looking at the report and when, and, and the data that we'd got and the experiences that we were going through, it was very much, well, the line manager was very much fundamental in people's day-to-day engagement during the pandemic.


(08:47):

So it just felt like before we sort of produced the report on that it needed to have some context, it needed to have some kind of reference around the pandemic. So that was the very initial thoughts of it. And obviously largely due to time, covid restrictions, <laugh> a survey seemed like it could be the, the way to go about gathering that kind of information, especially because we were, we were, again, to look at that massive variation in different people's experiences. So when we started looking into it, it was very much a, well, if we're gonna send that survey, there's lots of other things we also could do with asking about specifically the impact of, of the pandemic, on employee engagement levels within the UK. You know, what are employee le engagement levels in the UK anyway? I mean it's, we often get asked within the movement by volunteers and people coming to our events, you know, for, for levels of engagement in the UK.


(09:42):

And we often have to go to sort of external bodies, some of them not even sort of based in the UK that that takes small samples from certain data sets to try and use those. But, there's no sort of figure as such. So there was lots of different areas. There's some of the other tags as well that were doing pieces of work that would benefit from a little bit of data. So it kind of seemed like an opportunity to actually ask quite a lot of questions. Working at the university, they kindly funded the survey and then Engage For Success matched that funding to enable us to collect the data.


Andy Goram (10:21):

It's interesting, isn't it, because even the small amount of survey work that I end up doing with the clients, that is a question around, "Well what's going on in the UK? What's the benchmark?" And it's always an interesting question for people to have. And actually trying to find that information is nigh on impossible. <laugh> Even when working for engagement success, you know, trying to find up to date information is tough. And James maybe picking up on what Sarah just said, the range of questions that you could ask, right? I mean, now there's a skill in getting down to the right type range of questions within any out survey as well. Was this particularly tough or difficult when we look at the survey you actually put together here?


James Court-Smith (11:02):

I guess it was probably more difficult on this occasion, this first one we're planning now to repeat these so that we get that measure of engagement for the UK and can track and trend changes over time and, and understand more in-depth. But for this first survey, because our goal was such broad coverage that we also wanted to understand how people are remembering their journey through the pandemic, that meant that a lot of the survey was taken up with questions related to the pandemic and to what happened. So what we don't have, for example would be "What are the key drivers of engagement?" "Is recognition more important than clear expectations or vice versa?" That kind of thing. That certainly can be part of our next steps or our approach for future surveys. But usually the organisation sets the questions that they're going to ask their own people in their employee engagement survey. And so there of course you make it relevant, you make it specific to your context, you ask questions about your values or your big initiatives. And of course here for a UK wide survey, there is no set of specifics to go and, and measure around. But yeah, we have a good, broad coverage so that we now understand where engagement is at where it sits in the UK and have got a decent sense of that journey we've all been through.


Andy Goram (12:31):

Brilliant. And I mean, and Sarah, you mentioned a particular focus on the role of the line manager and people listening to this podcast will have heard me refer to the four enablers many times before. And, and we know that line manager's ability to engage with their employees colleagues is one of those four enablers. Other than that, specifically were there other major things you were really trying to find out with the survey? What were the sort of like, I guess, did you have some hypotheses that you were working to? These things must have happened based on all the chatter that had been going on and these are the things we really want to try and see if it's true?


Sarah Pass (13:08):

Yeah, so we were very keen to, and again, it's part of it was self-reflection because we weren't able to actually send out the survey during the pandemic. But equally, you know, as we, as we talk about in the event in the report, you know, our reflections of those experiences impact our behaviours now. So it was, it was still a valid question to ask, you know, how engaged did you feel before the pandemic? And how did you, how engaged did you feel during the pandemic, compared to how engaged do you feel now, to see if, you know, the pandemic and that dramatic impact we all had in terms of the ways that that we worked, did that have an influence on our levels of engagement? So that was a kind of a key area, but then also were there things that organisations did or didn't do that actually impact on that journey as well? So, you know, we saw a national drop, quite a significant national drop in engagement levels across many different areas and only a very partial recovery in terms of our engagement. So it was still quite low just to quote the figures because I'm in the process of writing the reports, it's in my head, <laugh>, you know, the average drop in organisational engagement was 11%. We've slightly rebounded by 3%. So, you know, you can see there's, there's already that sort of 8% gap. And that's looking at an average of organisational engagement. Whereas when we then start looking at, and you mentioned the line manager. Mm. You know, so for example, frequency of contact with the line manager when we look at the types of communication channels used by organisations, the employee involvement methods health and wellbeing, especially online health and wellbeing initiatives and learning and development.


(14:47):

So we looked at a variety of different methods that organisations we know from previous research were doing the impacted engagement, but also stuff we'd heard of and had conversations with around some of the initiatives from, I know things like virtual fitness, right? <laugh>. So we covered it all to see did any of those things make a difference? And the clear story is that it does. You know, the database strongly supports the fact that what organisations did in providing quality and, and quantity of actions had a big impact on engagement levels.


Andy Goram (15:23):

Fantastic. And we're gonna dig into some of those results in a minute. Before we do that, James, can I just ask you, technically, if we're asking people to look back a quite a considerable amount of time in the pre-pandemic time, during the pandemic itself, and after, does that pose a particular challenge for you in setting the questionnaire, analyzing the data maybe allowing for how people have answered? Is that a tough thing to do, or is that a normal thing to do? Just help me understand that a bit better.


James Court-Smith (15:55):

I do think it's fairly unusual. And that's because the pushback is always, well, it's not a longitudinal study, so we don't actually have a measure of how engaged people were before the pandemic. We're asking them to think back now and, and remember it, so their experience will have impacted what they're remembering and they might remember slightly differently. But I'm really pleased that we've taken this approach and feel really confident that it's a useful lens to use. Because how I remember the pandemic is going to be how I talk about it to other people, whether it's colleagues or talking to friends in the pub. And how I remember it is going to be the thing that impacts my attitudes, my opinions, my behaviours, anything I can't remember about the pandemic. You know, if you came back and told me, actually you weren't really disengaging with that engaged <laugh>, well if I don't know that it's not affecting my opinions, it's not affecting my behaviours.


(16:53):

So what we have got is a measure of how people are remembering their experience of going through the pandemic. and as Sarah's shared, you know, a drop of 11 percentage points is quite a big drop going into the pandemic. And we've only recovered about a third of that, or 3%. So we're, we're still that that's people's memory of the pandemic, is they remember it being much better than it used to be. And then once we get into what are the things that made a difference, actually where good employers provided lots of manager contact, lots of training and interaction methods, communications, online wellbeing offerings, actually their drop in engagement might only have been 1% or 2%, instead of 11 at the start.


Andy Goram (17:44):

So that in itself is huge. A 10-11-point gap between best and worst is huge. Before we finally get into the detail of what we found, was there any filter in terms of position, job role within that sample? Did we look at, I guess, leaders, managers, supervisors, and down to employees? Or was it more of a sort of blanket approach?


James Court-Smith (18:09):

We included anyone who was working. So when I talked about filtering out, very simply, if someone was retired for example, right throughout the pandemic, then they couldn't tell us anything about their work experience through the pandemic. So we filtered them out. But otherwise, no. Any type of employment, we are able to see whether someone was a manager or not a manager within the survey. And so we can track the impacts during the pandemic and how engagement dropped going into the pandemic and has partially recovered actually for both groups, both managers and frontline staff in very similar ways, which was quite interesting to see.


Andy Goram (18:49):

Well, let's get into the interesting stuff then. So I've made a few notes based on what I took out of the event, and you can see whether I've interpreted things correctly or fill in the gaps and color it all in nicely for me. And one of the things that I think stood out, and particularly Sarah, around the line manager, I think you guys talked about attitude and access. My interpretation of that was the attitude to engaging with employees, how authentic, genuine, deep that went and the access people had to their managers, <laugh> via Zoom, Teams, whatever it was. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and how that sort of played out through the survey?


Sarah Pass (19:30):

Yeah, so as James said, we were able to define whether somebody was a manager or or frontline staff. We did ask them questions around, you know, the size of teams and stuff as well to see if that made any differences. And I mean in terms of the difference between the manager and the frontline staff, I think one of the sort of key things was that they both had that drop. They both had that drop and you can see that that drop was almost parallel. Now, you know, the manager's engagement started higher which James assures me is, is quite common in engagement surveys and scores, and they often are higher, but that drop was equal. And that rebound has been equal as well. So their experiences, whether manager or non-manager has been the same.


(20:17):

And then in terms of that interaction, and again, we can look at, you know, those that have non-management experience and the impact that their direct line manager had, but also the manager's line manager <laugh> as well. And certainly frequency of contact played a big part. Being able to have that weekly, you know, several times a week contact. And there was a slight improvement if that was face-to-face, as opposed to virtual. But it was more about just having that contact. Now we're not able because of the survey, to actually determine, you know, the quality of that contact or whether there was a direct connection between the specific line manager and the employee because we're, you know, we asked a sample population of the UK and there's no way to actually match the line manager to the respondents.


(21:08):

But yeah, we know from the four enablers, we know from research around the role of line managers that, you know, you might have frequency, but if the contact isn't of quality, if it's felt like it's some kind of tickbox exercise, then obviously that can have a negative effect. But generally from the data, it did show that those having that more frequent contact, more interaction had a positive impact on their engagement, not only with their manager, but their engagement with their colleagues, the engagement with their job and the engagement with their organisation as well.


Andy Goram (21:45):

And I guess, James, we shouldn't be surprised by that result, right? That seems to be in line in keeping with a lot of the chatter that was going on around the time.


James Court-Smith (21:56):

Yes, I think so. And I mean, for me it is both well established, long-standing importance of the role of the manager. It's why it's one of the, the four enablers - engaging managers. I began my career working for Gallup. Their book in the nineties was all focused on the manager as well. So I think that is well understood. And particularly during the pandemic, the manager of course, was often the contact point between the organisation and employees. What's going on <laugh> as plans changed day by day?


Andy Goram (22:31):

Yeah, I mean, very much about how organisations were able to think on the fly because <laugh>, this wasn't something we'd taken a test for before or, I don't think many businesses had a big plan for dealing with the pandemic. So I, guess we can take solace and comfort to some extent from that sort of result coming through that we believe contact was important with engagement, we believe, whilst we can't measure the quality or the authenticity of that contact, we still believe that that's an important thing. And it would say from the survey results that's been born out. So if we take solace from that, what were some of the more interesting things that perhaps you hoped would come through and they did, or came left field? What sort of things did we discover?


James Court-Smith (23:12):

I suppose that would pick up on the one Sarah has mentioned for me, genuinely the biggest surprise was no difference in manager versus frontline changes in engagement during the pandemic. So it is well-known, I think, that managers always get higher engagement survey scores, then frontline staff and executives in large organisations get even higher scores than that. And that's why often survey suppliers have separate benchmarks for them. It's so well established. But it's the fact that the drop was the same drop going into the pandemic and the recovery has been the same recovery afterwards It was a surprise just because managers were, I suppose often seen and quite a bit of the media focused on them carrying a heavier burden than frontline staff, because they were trying to deal with their own emotions as well as managing their team. But what our survey shows is that, yes, they absolutely experienced the same negatives during the pandemic, but have recovered in a similar way as well.


Andy Goram (24:17):

And that is interesting in itself. Because there was an awful lot of talk around burnout and stress around having to try and balance that much more virtual contact with the day job. I mean, I remember having lots of conversations with people about that. But it's fascinating I think, to sort of see it's a parallel. The guys on the front line were reacting just in the same way, just maybe different stresses, different burdens than the managers and leaders. Fantastic. Not in a good way, but in an interesting sense. I think one of the things that stood out for me was the particular focus, or it seemed to be, the reaction to the provision of what I would call a comprehensive wellness support suite. In that, it seemed to suggest that if you were really committed, if you'd given a complete access to your employee base of a whole range of wellness tools, be that mental health support, physical support, financial support, a whole range, you seemed to protect that engagement level versus other organisations that maybe took a piecemeal attitude towards it, or didn't provide anything at all.


(25:40):

I mean, it almost seemed to me, from my take on the results, it didn't really matter if you'd done piecemeal or nothing, the effect was the same, or more or less the same, actually those guys who really seem to put effort in and provide a genuine level of support fared much better. Have I interpreted that correctly? Sarah, perhaps you'd like to share your thoughts on that?


Sarah Pass (26:03):

Yeah, definitely. And I think, like, I mean, you, you said earlier as well about many organisations not being prepared for the pandemic, or aware of it <laugh>. I had some executive MBA students who were doing research projects at the time, (they) weren't intending to do it on the impact of the pandemic, but obviously it changed. So they were looking at things like crisis management and looking at how you manage and, and how lessons learned from the pandemic. And, you know, from their reviews and searches, there was nothing to even compare it to. You know, any previous learning or understanding. They might have been the sort of financial impacts and financial crash. There might be some natural disasters, but in terms of this, the pandemic and the way that it was, and the way that it affected so many people and the way that we worked, there wasn't anything there.


(26:58):

So for many organisations it really was a case of, okay, so how do we manage this? How do we deal with it? And those that actively tried to do stuff, they tried to support their staff, they tried to put on different activities, and it wasn't necessarily that those activities were taken up, but just that they were on offer. The example being counseling. So we asked about the availability of online counseling for staff. And many didn't actually take it up, but knowing that it was there had a positive impact on them. There was, I mean, and there's a range of things, you know, like I said, I mentioned, I live on virtual fitness. We, because we heard stuff about virtual fitness and virtual downtime activities like the quizzes, like the online cooking sessions and drinking sessions and book clubs and, you know, we looked at all those different things that, and I think that the common thing across all those is that organisations were trying to do something.


(27:54):

They were trying to support their staff. Now, some of those things, probably some of those wellbeing packages, probably were already there in place anyway. Like we say about, you know, things like counseling and, and other wellbeing initiatives that were then adapted to be online. But certainly quite a few of those, you know, I don't, I don't recall any having virtual fitness sessions <laugh> prior to the pandemic. It was not something anybody would ever consider and, you know, virtual cookery sessions, but they were things that people were then trying because of it. And it was that collective package of activities. Not one specific activity, but several of them. So in terms of, you mentioned the wellbeing initiatives, you know, those that did none, if memory calls, you're talking about a 13% drop. If you did four, four or more different types of initiatives, a 1% drop, you know, that's a huge difference.


Andy Goram (28:50):

Yeah. And James, I think, again, this is from my memory, I think when we looked at that data in the event the difference between those guys that did nothing and did maybe a couple of things didn't seem huge. They seemed to get the same sort of level of large drop. Have I interpreted that correctly?


James Court-Smith (29:11):

Yes, I think so. I mean, that might be partly the way we were, we're showing it, it is sort of graduated, if you will. So the more, generally speaking, the more on offer, the better the impact, the smaller the drop of engagement and the less on offer then the worse the situation. And really the thing that sticks out for me is that we found half of employees in the UK, by which I mean half of our sample, half of our survey, did not experience a great situation in any of those elements. So whether it be online offerings, training and development, communications, interaction methods, none of those were in a great place. They only had one or two options for each of them. That's half the country in essence. And that's where we're seeing the 13, 14% drop. Whereas it's only one in eight who had good interaction methods and comms and training and actually have only dropped 1 percentage point since then.


Andy Goram (30:11):

I guess I'm horribly biased in this area because to me, this is all about intentionality and commitment. It's right in line with any sort of form of meaningful culture change, in my book. In that the quick fix, the pass out the Mindful app and everything's sorted. You know, I think your research backs up that that's not the way forward. You need to be intentional, you need to be committed, it needs to feel authentic and it needs to be continuous in your support, right.? I mean, would that be the same conclusion you guys would get to?


James Court-Smith (30:47):

I think I'd agree with that from my side, and in many ways, it's about options being offered rather than a recipe. So I suppose a little bit like working from first principles rather than working from a best practice or set series of steps. That offering options seems to have been the important thing rather than which specific option. And I think that's because if there are lots of options there, everybody's gonna be able to find one or two of them that really suit them.


Andy Goram (31:17):

Yeah. Sarah, can I ask you as well, because there seemed to be, for me, a bit of a thread that excited me, in, you know, in a good responsive way. A lot of the time when we talk about engagement and culture, there's a deferring to HR, as it's their thing to look after. But it seemed to me that for once and for all, thank the Lord, we were saying, this is not just an HR thing, right? This is an organisational commitment. Again, have I interpreted that correctly? Could we, could we take anything from what the survey's told us to, to back that up?


Sarah Pass (31:53):

Yeah, definitely. And I mean, not just in terms of the survey, but certainly in terms of a lot of the other activities and work we've been doing in the different tags. And, you know, one of the key questions we had in the line managers tag when we went into organisation was, you know, who's responsible for employee engagement? And then also who's accountable for employee engagement as well? We took those questions and, put those in the survey because when we asked everybody, nobody ever said "HR." When you asked frontline staff, nobody ever said it was HR. The senior managers might do, but otherwise HR was never even mentioned. And certainly, you know, the mainly talked about their, their line managers their leaders and themselves actually actively having to take a part in being engaged as well.


(32:37):

And certainly when we asked questions around accountability of engagement, it would be a bit of a fudged response. So, we included those into the survey, and again, it showed that the same sort of thing that, you know, a lot of people comment on or refer to, you know, being engaged, and they talk about line managers, they talk about the organisation. They don't talk about HR specifically. In terms of the line managers, we asked them about accountability specifically in the survey, you know. Did they do action plans? Was it part of their appraisals? Was it something that was part of their role? So many of them said, yes, they agreed it was something that was part of their role, but very few of them actually did action plans based upon engagement surveys or engagement results. And when you ask them about was it part of their appraisal? It was just a totally mixed bag who's actually responsible for it? Yes. Often it's the HR departments that send out the survey. Many often talk about communication and about it being an act of communication. So internal comms become part of it. But actually doing it. Who's actually accountable for it? Who's actually responsible for it? There still seems to be that massive gap.


Andy Goram (33:52):

Right? Well, I just have this massively strong belief that it's, it's about the collective of the organisation in these things, I think, you know,? Even the work that I do on culture change, there's such a marked difference between, you know, a small team trying to drive stuff, versus an organisation really committed to it, and it being really woven into the fabric of everything that we do. You know, not forced into an annual PDP, you know, "Did you deliver this value?" But on the daily conversations that are had. In all the communications that come out from, from the centre. You know, how we relate back to our vision, how it contributes to the mission, how we've played out and seen the values, how, you know, and, and actually where we have taken some actions to, I guess, stop poor delivery around these things and show consequence for not delivering these things. To me that's where it really comes from. God, I could talk about this sort of stuff forever, but we must move on. The implications for us, I guess, from the findings of this report going forward, I mean, I think we're still dealing with a lot of stuff. I mean, James, I think you've coined the phrase "the hot mess of hybrid". I think we're still living that right now when you listen to organisations. But what do you see as the implications for the UK going forward, based on what you've seen out of the engagement result?


James Court-Smith (35:10):

Well, I guess actually hybrid was one of the things that we looked at in the survey. But for me, it's really distinct from a proper hybrid working strategy or properly planned and executed remote working. That's not what people experienced in the pandemic, you know, that was the hot mess. It's the fact that it was, no one anticipated it, it was hodgepodge mess, although, you know, different months for different individuals, companies responding very differently to it. So working remotely, working from home during the pandemic was associated with a bigger drop in engagement during the pandemic than those who were working from a place of work. But I just think it's so important not to take that as the result of hybrid or working from home. It's the result of that version of it.


(36:08):

The pandemic version of working from home and moving forward. I think there's something, you were just talking about taking ownership for results and moving forward. I think there is a huge gap there. The fact that we can even have this conversation about whether HR is responsible for engagement or not, to be honest, makes me wanna bang my head against the wall. <laugh>. I mean, I know we should be having the conversation cause that's the state of the discourse. But HR are in no way responsible for engagement in my mind. Engagement is the day-to-day job of primarily managers and the teams that they are leading. And so for me, I would see engagement as a toolkit that's provided to help managers and teams do what they're meant to be doing day in, day out throughout the year anyway, which is remain focused, motivated, engaged make sure that they've got career opportunities and development that they have voice.


(37:07):

All of those things should be happening anyway. The engagement survey is a chance to take stock and an important resource because it helps you focus and prioritise what should we be doing to improve things. But yes, I think that ownership piece is so important. And part of the process usually for working on engagement is working on the results of the survey. Teams, departments, looking at how they fared where they are now and agreeing some actions. That very process of talking about the results and agreeing collectively on which two or three things are we gonna do in our department, in our team, that really builds ownership because everyone feels part of it. We've chosen those actions, so that's what we're trying to achieve. And you get much more progress when you approach it in that way, certainly then you do, if you try and dictate some actions from the top down, that doesn't work nearly as well.


Andy Goram (38:05):

Halleluia to that James. Praise be! Very good. I'm very happy with that and totally subscribe to that. And Sarah, from your perspective, what would you add, what do you think the implications are for us going forward?


Sarah Pass (38:17):

Well, just to follow on James' comment about that initial drop, that hot mess and well, if you look at the data in terms of satisfaction and increase in engagement since, there is a slight improvement for an and an increase for those that were able to work from more in a hybrid way. So yes, it might have initially had a bit of a drop, but there is what appears to be a trend to those that were able to work in that particular way, having a better satisfaction level with their organisation, their engagement improving, as we started to handle the hot mess and get some kind of control over it, and find laptops, webcams and everything else to work from. So, yes, just to emphasise James's comments that you know, that isn't indicative of working from home, meaning disengaged at all. But also this you know, this being that the impact that it's had and the impact that it's had on different groups as well.


(39:19):

So some of those groups, for example, we looked at furlough, people that have been furloughed, and their drop in engagement was much more significant and is still lower. So, you know, thinking about, you know, as, James said, you know, looking at your data, what's going on in your organisation and in your teams. So for example, if you do have staff that were on furlough, or that fell into particular groups or categories that seem to have had a bigger impact in terms of their engagement, because of a number of different factors, what can you do with them to help them? And another important point which is something very passionate for James is, was around thinking about how you report on your survey's results as well, and how you measure the different data to ensure that you include all voices in those kind of responses. But significantly, I think for me is that we are still quite far behind in terms of the levels of engagement we were before the pandemic. So there's quite a bit of work needed to be done and then definitely a call to action.


Andy Goram (40:23):

Yeah, I would definitely agree with that. I think there's, I see it when I walk into a corporate client today, and there is still a marked difference between those guys who had been furloughed in those guys who had been, I guess, intact all the way through. I refer to that as some sort of furlough bruising. There's definitely that happening. I think I'm with James on the reporting piece and listening to everybody. I mean, there's a whole other episode, James, to kind of get into why NPS is not the thing to use, <laugh> going forward, and we just don't have time unfortunately for that today. But I agree you want to listen to everybody, right? Because that's the only way you can really make meaningful change to more people in the organisation, I think. Okay. We are at the point in the show I like to call Sticky Notes, which is where we're going to try and summarise, OK?


(41:11):

Which is always fun when I have two guests, as to who's going to get to do what. But I'm asking you to think about, I guess, the implications coming out of the survey and the top three bits of advice you could give to my listeners that they could fit onto three little sticky notes. Okay. So if I was to ask you, Sarah, James, when we think about the results of the survey, when we think about the implications for us going forward to try and continue to improve the engagement of our workforce, what would your three sticky notes be?


James Court-Smith (41:43):

I think my first one would be to think of engagement as providing a toolkit for what's happening day in, day out. Back to that very that comment just a, just a few moments ago. Just that it's not an add-on, it's not an additional program or an additional set of tasks that managers need to carry out. They're doing their work day-to-day anyway. Engagement should be providing them with additional resources and additional tools that help them in their existing endeavor. My second one would be to start looking at change. So engagement is something that changes slowly over time and is based on relationships at work, the manager, how well they communicate and motivate and all of those things play a part. So change is important and it is rare that I see any focus on change in engagement surveys.


(42:37):

You might get a, "this is up one or down one point", but that's about it. Most of the focus is what's my score, what's my current score? We need to move beyond what's my current score and it's just not up to the job. And then my last one would be, use measures that reflect the true response, fairly of everybody. Thank you Sarah, for teeing me up on that one. It's back to use the mean score, just the average. It's not complicated, it's not a formula it's really simple, but that way everyone's response counts equally and fairly the way they gave it. And that way we have a clear review of response.


Andy Goram (43:12):

Love that, James. Thank you. And Sarah, you don't escape, right? So we're...


Sarah Pass (43:16):

I'm academic! I can't put things into three little Post-it notes, <laugh>, that's at least three pages of an article that. So, okay, so if I was to give three titbits, the role of the line manager was fundamental and there's a clear indication around the training of the line manager to be able to do that job well. So really consider that kind of training, but also as a, as we've mentioned before, it's not just one bit of training you know, it's that continuous training. But also for line managers to do that job, they need the capacity to be able to do it. It's not something that's just an extra task, an extra thing to engage with their staff. They need the time and resources to do it. So yeah, so focus around the line manager.


(44:02):

As James mentioned before as well, options. Options of different things. And I think that's a clear thing coming out of the pandemic. That people's experiences and backgrounds and interests and certain personal circumstances varied massively. So providing different types of approaches so people had options was really, really important. And then in terms of listening to employees. So as James said, you know, making sure that you measure it and report it in the right kind of way. And just to give it a bit of a plug you know, we do have the Employee Engagement Index as part of the report as well. So that was just looking at three questions that you could do. So organisations that don't have the capacity and the resources to implement a big engagement survey, it's three questions. And as the example James often would give, you know, you could do it in a team meeting with Post-It notes, there you go. Connecting to your Post-It note <laugh> to get people to answer those three questions and to get that average of responses. And those that already do have those things in place, they can obviously look at the levels and things that we've got and, and their questions that they've got. But yeah, listening to the employees and hearing what they say,


Andy Goram (45:13):

Fantastic. I mean, this is double bubble. We are celebrating our 60th episode today. So that's my Silver Jubilee, effectively <laugh>. Right. (congratulations). Oh, thank you very much. Very, very cool. And we have six sticky notes. I mean, that's unprecedented. We've grown by a hundred percent. Absolutely amazing. Just picking up on what you both said, where can people find these three questions? Is that a link to engage for success.org?


Sarah Pass (45:38):

Yes, it will be. So all that and all the information and detail around what we talked about will be in the report, which will be out in days. So you can put a link to the Engagement Success website which will link to that survey. There's also a link on the Engage For Success website for the recording of the event you mentioned earlier, that happened in November where we talked through the details of the survey, and there was a bit of discussion and debate as well as some slides as well.


Andy Goram (46:09):

That will all go in the show notes. No question. Listen, thank you both so much for coming on the show today. I can't tell you how appreciative I am <laugh>. This has been a longer episode than normal, and it could have gone on for a lot longer, believe me. So I'm very, very grateful for your time. Thanks so much for joining me today.


Sarah Pass (46:27):

Thank you for having us.


Andy Goram (46:29):

You're welcome. (James- Thanks, Andy.) Fantastic. Okay, that was Sarah Pass and James Cort Smith. Now if you'd like to find out more about anything that we've talked about today or a bit more about them, then please check out the show notes.


(46:46):

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 forward. 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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