ChapmanCG and HR leaders from various industries recently teamed up in New York City to host a series of meetings to discuss Innovations in Employee Engagement. The events were hosted by

  • Michelle Bleiberg – Senior Vice President, Talent Management & Corporate Human Resources at Time Warner,
  • Christine Sheehy – Managing Director, Regional Head, HR and Talent & Learning, Europe & Americas at Standard Chartered Bank,
  • Tom Wilson – Head, Americas Talent Acquisition at Standard Chartered Bank
  • Stuart Robertson - Vice President HR Global Corporate Groups at Coach, Inc., and
  • Peter Warwick – Chief People Officer at Thomson Reuters.

More than 120 HR professionals attended the sessions. Presenters were from top companies including AIG, IBM, International SOS, JLL, Pall Corporation, Teva Pharmaceutical, The Chemours Company, The Linde Group, and Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Almost all organizations are looking for ways to increase engagement and the majority were in agreement that annual engagement surveys alone are not the answer. By bringing together such a diverse group of HR professionals, we were hoping to provoke some thought and get people to step out of their company or industry bubbles and open themselves up to new ideas and approaches. We were not disappointed. With a core of fantastic presenters driving the group discussions, we were able to pull out some interesting insights.

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How Mobility Can Drive Engagement

We discussed a new approach to using mobility to drive engagement. Many organizations are going through significant transformation, not only in structure and reporting lines, but also physically relocating to new office locations. Michelle Bleiberg from Time Warner, Inc. is a key Ambassador for Time Warner’s physical move of all its employees to a new development at Hudson Yards. She’s proved that empowering employees during a period of change by giving them the opportunity to have a say in the future of their organization can be extremely powerful. We discussed giving employees the opportunity to contribute to the design of their new office workspace and play a key role in discovering commuting alternatives in a fun and collaborative way.

Kia Christian from Thermo Fisher Scientific, in her presentation,“New Year, Same Problem – Truly Driving the Engagement Needle”, discussed how, in a broader sense, levels of employee involvement in key tasks and decision making processes can have a direct impact on feeling engaged. When leaders promote high levels of involvement, a culture of inclusion starts to form and this then drives business performance as the view is that “we are all in this together, all pulling in the same direction.”

An Organization’s Values Must Resonate With Employees

It is important to ensure the values of the employees reflect those of the organization. When this happens, engagement scores can be exceptionally high, upwards of 90% in fact. This raises some interesting talking points. Does an institution that is altruistic by nature attract like-minded employees, and because of this common set of values or purpose have higher levels of employee engagement? This is often the case for not-for profit organizations and those which act for the betterment of the human race (biotech, healthcare, pharma companies for example). This can also be the case in organizations where profit is the key driver. What matters is the strength of the alignment of employer and employee values.

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Driving Employee Engagement Requires Stakeholder Accountability

How do we hold each other accountable for engagement? Who is responsible? We saw how some organizations have a very clear view of accountability and measure their leaders closely on it, to the point it can significantly impact bonuses or even their likelihood of keeping their jobs. However, what became clear is that engagement is the responsibility of all people in the equation.

Listening To External Voices Can Be Key to Improving Engagement

Guillermo Miranda, Chief Learning Officer at IBM talked about their decision to get rid of the standard employee engagement survey and discussed a number of ways they approaching engagement. One practice that resonated well was social listening. In recent years, we have seen some of the more innovative industry leaders create the Chief Listening Officer role. In essence, paying close attention to and analyzing social media interactions and comments made about an organization. The written word is a powerful tool and the scale and instantaneous nature of social media messaging today means that an organization can track—in real time—how its employees are feeling and reacting to work stimuli. Gathering this intel can help managers tweak approaches and increase their focus on any contentious practices. We see it every day, reputations built and destroyed on social media. The Chief Listening Officer role may well be here to stay and flourish!

Engagement Should be Present Throughout the Entire Employee Lifecycle

Peter Vermeulen of The Linde Group highlighted in his presentation “Employee Experience – An Employee-Centric Approach to HR” how engagement is not a snap shot in time—something that only occurs at a certain time during tenure. It is the full experience from recruitment to onboarding, training to Promotion, and transition and alumni. HR needs to have tailored approaches at each stage of the employee’s journey through an organization to ensure ‘engagement’ is continual. By identifying when these key stages occur, HR professionals can administer the appropriate tools to ensure that messages are aligned with the culture of the organization and are delivered at the right time

Improving Employee Wellness Can Have A Direct Impact on Engagement

Peter Warwick gave a detailed account of Thomson Reuters’ approach in his presentation “Health and Wellness Programs to Drive Organizational Health and Employee Engagement”. It was important to build an environment where the employer and the employee had equal responsibility for creating a culture of wellness. This was achieved through improving health offerings internally (e.g. programs highlighting health benefits on quality of life, gym memberships, etc.) and offering incentives for achieving health goals. When we look at the return on investment for these programs, we can consider things like reduced absenteeism due to illness, reduction in medical costs, improvements in overall functioning and productivity, and increased collaboration. These are all positive components that can be used as attraction and retention strategies.

We also discussed the merits of meditation techniques and the practical implications of utilizing such. Anis Baig of Teva Pharmaceuticals has done much work in this space. He identified how stress and workplace burnout is a global pandemic that is counter-productive to the workforce and that the goal of corporate programs should be to promote well-being, happiness and creativity.

Although there is clear empirical evidence that suggests there are health benefits derived from meditation, organizations on the whole are hesitant to throw weight behind these approaches. Many promote it is an option rather than as a core component of daily working life.

The Whole Employee Experience Is Important

In her presentation, “Designing the Employee Experience to Drive Engagement”, Susan Steele of IBM pulled it together nicely: It’s not just the emotional state of an individual or the type of social interactions they have at work or the health of that person or even the configuration of the physical work environment that one immerses themselves in on a daily basis. It truly is a combination of all these factors and how these factors interact and disrupt each other, which forms the basis of designing a successful employee experience.

The IBM Study revealed these 5 key practices:

  • Create a fit between the needs of the employee and the needs of the organization;
  • Improve visibility across the organization, for both the employee and the employer;
  • Remove non value-added activities and information to streamline experiences;
  • Align experiences to the organization’s culture and value system; and
  • Allow both employee and employer to share information and modify actions.

The Engagement Survey Serves A Useful Purpose But We Need More Interaction

Although we should not solely rely on an annual or bi-annual survey, it is still a good barometer to use. One HR leader referred to it as going for an annual blood test—it may not tell us the causes of any illness, but it helps to identify that there is something that needs attention. Without a regular check-up, we may be ignorant of any issues until it’s too late.

How regular these interactions or ‘pulses’ need to be was also discussed at length. The general consensus was that more is good. More frequent levels of interaction might enable us to identify a pattern of behaviour over time which could help predict the actions of an individual in future. Another HR Leader likened this to a sprinter running the 100M. We know He/She starts and stops at a certain time, but not how they felt or their muscles reacted at intervals during the race. If we could attach electrodes to this sprinter and identify and measure these changes, we could in theory predict how this individual would react in a future race over the same distance. With HR becoming more data driven, these predict analytics could invaluable.

In summary, Employee Engagement cannot and should not reside solely with HR. Engagement is a shared responsibility where managers, employees, and HR come together to share ideas, to create solutions, and to build an environment where everyone has a sense of responsibility towards a common goal. As Susan Steele highlighted, this means improving transparency across the organization and seeking to align experiences with the culture and vision of the organization. We all want to feel that we belong and that our input is valued.

ChapmanCG brings together diverse groups of HR leaders to discuss the key issues and current trends affecting organizations around the world.