Thought leaders 2010: The year ahead: Simplyhealth insight: Togetherness is the key to a happy workforce

Effective engagement can play a significant role in helping employers and employees recover from the recession, says Simplyhealth’s head of people, Helen Dickinson

During recessions, we generally assume that employee attrition will be low, with fewer vacancies and employees seeking to retain their redundancy entitlements. Although there has been evidence of this, it is also true that talented individuals have still found opportunities to move on and progress their careers.

As the economy picks up, we may find that employee attrition increases, but engagement is not all about retention. It is about realising the potential of employees and, without committed, healthy and engaged staff, customers will not receive good service and organisations may not achieve the levels of productivity they need for business recovery.

Key drivers of engagement change over time, between different teams and people. A common driver is the need to understand what the organisation is trying to achieve, business performance, the role of teams and individuals, and how people are rewarded for their contribution. This is critical to understanding the two-way deal between employer and employee.

However, securing employee engagement is not simple. A happy, content and loyal workforce may often be achieved better through a number of small initiatives. It is not enough to think about the obvious needs of employees and traditional benefits. Rather, we should think about the needs of employees at their various life stages, all requiring different support strategies.

Key areas for engagement

When approaching engagement at Simplyhealth, we consider three key areas: employee job satisfaction and opportunities for career development; financial wellbeing and offering employees strategies and advice for healthy finances; and support for their emotional and physical wellbeing, given the serious effects of stress, depression and sickness absence.

Cost can be an issue when implementing new benefits and policies. However, the absence of a huge budget does not mean you cannot afford to implement change. Creativity and choosing the right partners to support you are key factors. For example, many types of health plan can be offered on a part-paid or employee-paid basis, and employee assistance programmes can be outsourced or bought as a bundle, which can reduce the costs.

It is also important to involve employees in designing rewards that they perceive as valuable. By doing this, we have found it is vital to consider the importance of family. During times of difficulty, it can be engaging for employees to be able to support their families, which, in turn, helps prevent home issues affecting the workplace.

Employees are seeking flexibility, often prioritising benefits for their family or are happy to make contributions towards the cost of extending benefits to include their family.

Finally, it is important to consider that economic difficulties can last much longer for the employee than the employer, leaving the echo of the recession for an extended period. This means that it is more important than ever for us to take action to engage employees, halt any exodus and support their emotional, physical and financial wellbeing.

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