Harnessing employee insights to improve engagement strategy

employee insights

Need to know:

  • Annual surveys are a popular choice for gathering employee insights, when used effectively and alongside other methods.
  • Online forums, social media and digital platforms can provide easy, anonymous methods, but face-to-face conversation is still important.
  • Empowering local managers to enact change is an important aspect of effective follow-up after canvassing employee opinion.

According to Thomsons’ UK Employee Benefits Watch 2016/17, published in March 2017, the disparity between the benefits that employees would like access to, and those that are actually being offered to them, can be considerable. For example, 65% of the employees canvassed saw financial wellness as important, but only 7% of employers offered support in this area.

Employers need to keep pace with the changes and issues being faced by a diverse workforce, to keep employees engaged and enthusiastic. In this process, an organisation’s greatest asset is its employees themselves.

Moving away from traditional methods

Annual surveys remain popular as a method of judging engagement, tracking trends and gathering employee insights.

These can be useful in providing open questions and opportunities for employees to make suggestions about strategy, says Sean Mills, executive director at Ipsos Leadership Engagement Advisory. However, there can be some disadvantages. “The problem you have with that is that you can’t really take it further, there’s just text and you have to discern what the meanings are,” he says.

To overcome this, employers could use these surveys concurrently with focus groups and workshops, where employees’ survey answers can form the basis for discussion.

A continuous listening strategy also allows for consistent, real-time results, in addition to the traditional survey structure, says Yves Duhaldeborde, director at Willis Towers Watson. Employers could also home in on specific groups and issues. “[Employers] can really ask small questions that are very targeted on specific issues for different populations,” he explains. “That allows [them] to track different things across the organisation.”

Harnessing the digital age

Social media, review websites such as Glassdoor.com and the internet in general, allow for free and anonymous conversation. Organisations should, therefore, embrace the discussion that is already occurring.

Using online forums to allow for open discourse, for example, is an effective method that many companies are using. There has also been a rise in enterprise social networks such as Yammer as a method of gathering insights, says Jonny Gifford, senior adviser for organisational behaviour at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

If a person can check their messages, do their weekly shop or book a holiday at the touch of a button, an employee should be able to provide ideas for change to their organisation just as easily.

John Mallozzi, chief executive officer (CEO) at HR consultancy Mercer Sirota, says: “Technology allows for an anonymous conversation. Sometimes it’s good to have people in a room having the open conversation and discussion, but the technology actually allows for folks to not necessarily identify themselves and put out their ideas and opinions. I do think that for many people that safe environment for putting out those ideas is important.”

However, employers need to use a combination of digital technology and human interaction, says Mills. “The face-to-face methods are better for picking up the non-verbal cues as to how people are feeling about what they’re saying,” he explains. “You can lose a lot of the context with just the written word. And [employers] are building relationships with them as well, they are showing that they’re actually interested in their opinion by the way that you facilitate those kinds of events.”

Following up and using insights effectively

The mere act of engaging in this kind of discussion, whether by tapping into online discourse, holding an event to celebrate employee ideas, creating a committee, or committing to regular one-on-ones, is often enough to make workers feel more engaged, listened to and appreciated.

It might be easy, then, to falter at this point. However, failing to follow up after canvassing employee insights can itself be damaging to engagement, says Amanda Callen, senior research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies (IES).

Mallozzi adds: “The [organisations which] utilise the data the best are the ones that establish accountability for first talking with their groups [at the local level] about the results. When [employers] can have a dynamic that’s safe and can have those conversations and actually create some plans on the back of those conversations, that’s where we see the most effective programmes.”

Overall, it is integral that an organisation empower its employees and team leaders on the ground. As Duhaldeborde concludes: “[Employers] want to generate that individual drive to do things yourself for your team, and not expect that leaders are going to do something to improve your engagement only.”

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