Sunday, 10 April 2016

Employee engagement is all about Love.

‘Employee engagement’ has graduated well past jargon to an acceptable and valuable measure linked to productivity in the workplace. But what does ‘engagement’ mean – and how can it be quantified?

If you are seeking awards or hope to tick the engagement box then there is a plethora of questionnaires and benchmarks to use. But employers should really go deeper to assess not only engagement but the emotional intelligence and culture of the company. In short – employee engagement should not be measured in isolation and employers should be clear not only what they are measuring but how they intend to use the information gathered to achieve ideal relationships.

The CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel Development) has produced a variety of papers on the subject and quote a definition from Utrecht University stating that work engagement has three elements:
  • vigour (energy, resilience and effort)
  • dedication (for example, enthusiasm, inspiration and pride)
  •  absorption (concentration and being engrossed in one’s work)
mmm – not sure how helpful that is..

The CIPD also states that ‘positive relationships are evidenced with profit, revenue growth, customer satisfaction, productivity, innovation, staff retention, efficiency and health and safety performance’. Perhaps this is a little more helpful definition– but it doesn’t really reach the heart of the matter. A company can measure highly on all of the above but may not necessarily have a team of ‘engaged employees’. You can have accompany car park full of high performance cars owned by a successful sales team – but could they be even more successful or maybe the performance is unsustainable? How much do they actually care about their customers and colleagues?

At the risk of sounding fluffy – I believe that true employee engagement is about love. Passion for your job, care for your colleagues, love for the company and an emotional investment in your customers. And this is where the measure of engagement should start – with your customers – do they feel the love?

Kevin Kruse, a contributor to Forbes magazine refers to employee engagement as ‘a feeling’ and he compares corporate relationships with ‘the quantity of love you may have for your spouse’ He goes on to say that although you cannot truly quantify love, maybe you could use the five point Likert scale (1- strongly disagree to 5- strongly agree) to rate the key relationships. For example: A person deeply in love is …

Ø  More likely to brag about their partner (employer) than someone who isn’t in love
Ø  More likely to tell their friends (colleagues and customers) how good their relationship is
Ø  Less likely to fantasise about ‘hooking up intimately’ with another person or think about divorce (talking to a head hunter or seeking employment with a competitor)
I would add another measure to this list – they are more likely to act in ‘loving ways’ (helpful, positive) with their customers and colleagues.

I have been reminded of the damaging the lack, or loss, of love can have on relationships with customers twice over the past couple of days. A friend of mine was referred to the Accident and Emergency department of an NHS hospital the other day. Heavily pregnant, she was in a potentiallybut not imminently urgent situation and accepted that a certain amount of delay and hanging around would be involved. But what she wasn’t prepared for was the ill humour of the doctors. She was seen by several of them during her 7 hour stay during which time they were professional and undertook the medical investigations required but, in the words of my friend, ‘all had faces liked slapped a*ses’. Yes – they are royally p*ssed off with the current contract debacle and the lack of love they are feeling from their employer is translating directly into the emotional intelligence of the group and therefore the customer (patient) experience.

How sad that so much goodwill has been lost and I wonder how long it will take for that group of employees to become re-engaged. In the meantime, patients may not suffer clinically but they certainly won’t have such a good customer experience because of this lost love.

A more trivial example of poor employee engagement was clear at the restaurant I visited with my family for a birthday celebration on Friday night. One of the top veggie restaurants in London and only Michelin-listed one around, we were expecting exemplary service and great food. Alas we had neither. Luckily we were in good enough spirits (both metaphorically and literally) not to let the unhelpful and grumpy waiting staff spoil our evening. But on refection the lack of warmth we encountered was shocking. One of our group does not like dairy but every one of the main courses involved whey, curd, yoghurt or even ‘sheep’s milk’. When we asked if she could perhaps order two starters, and maybe have a larger portion of one as a main course she was told ‘No’. And no alternative was offered. There were plenty of staff around so we can assume that this waitress was not over-worked but she just didn’t care enough about her job, her employer and certainly not about the customer, to make any effort to enhance our experience. Maybe the employer doesn’t even care enough about the customer either to ensure that the staff offer good service. So there was very little love around (apart from our table of course).

I was sufficiently disappointed to be galvanised into placing a negative review on trip adviser in an effort to avoid other customers being disappointed. A clear example of how lack of caring for the business or the customer could have a detrimental effect on the bottom line.

An employee’s relationship with their employer is one of the most important relationships they ever encounter and companies should make every effort to ensure that this is healthy and positive and two-way.

The best way to ensure great customer satisfaction and employee engagement is to make sure that in the words of the song, each team member should… ‘Love the one you’re with’.




Saturday, 2 April 2016

The living wage – it's not just about salary.

Increasing the minimum wage payable in the UK for those of 25 years and above must be a good thing. I’m not convinced by the age criteria though – how can it be right for a 20 year old and a 26 year old to be doing the same job but not earning the same income? I do wonder if age discrimination could apply here – a test case just waiting to happen methinks.

But minutiae aside – how is the legislation making a 'living wage' mandatory going to affect the employment landscape in the UK? Employee benefits consultants and healthcare advisers will have some larger clients operating in a variety of sectors, some of whom may feel a significant financial impact of this uplift in their wage bill. Who will ultimately pay for this?

This new legislation reminds me of the introduction of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or ‘Obamacare’) in the US in 2010. I attended several conferences across the pond where employers and benefits providers discussed this in great detail. The difference between PPACA in the US and ‘Living wage’ in the UK are that the first introduced a mandatory level of health care benefit to be funded by employers and the second is a mandatory level of pay. Both initiatives have the effect of compromising funds available to be spent on a section of the workforce.

As ‘Obamacare’ was introduced there was much bluster for the food and beverage industry – with one spokesman stating ‘This could bankrupt America’ – of course it hasn’t.

In the US, employers found ways of getting round this increased benefits bill which was estimated at being between a 6% and 10% uplift in costs. After Supreme Court challenges against the Bill failed, industry bosses changed employment practices – swapping full time employees for more part time staff (to avoid the minimum number of full timers required for the Act to apply). Salaries were subjected to downward pressure to offset the healthcare benefit costs. One study undertaken 6 months after the introduction of the PPACA showed that rather than charge the cost of the uplifted benefits bill on to customers, 46% employees found a way to pass the increased expense to the employees and only 9% companies absorbed the costs via their profit margin.

Interestingly, in another survey, a large number (44%) of enlightened employers actually planned to increase their health management and wellbeing programme spend in an effort to reduce the claims on the mandatory health insurance, and therefore reduce premium cost.

This brings me back to the UK and my main area of concern regarding the living wage which is the impact on employee benefits. While of course supporting a living wage for all, I fear that something else will be sacrificed to balance employment costs.

Corporate healthcare benefits such as cash plans (offering reimbursement of a range of health related services) has enjoyed a period of dramatic growth over the past decade – 12% in 2014 - as companies provide this low cost, but much appreciated benefit to entire workforces including ‘lower paid’ staff. It is estimated that there are currently well over three quarters of a million employer paid plans currently in place. Company paid private medical insurance schemes account for over 75% of the UK PMI market and corporate dental plans continue to be highly popular. Those covered by a company paid life insurance, critical illness and income protection schemes has also grown by 1.25 million over the past five years.

Put simply – good health is good business. A well-designed healthcare benefits plan protects the health, wellbeing, and engagement of employees –and therefore productivity of the workforce.

So employers please take note. Cutting employee benefits to offset the increased wage bill due to the living wage could be false economy. Investment in health is money well spent.