CIPD Podcast 6- Employee engagement

Date: 03/04/07 Duration: 00:19:28

In this podcast Greig Aitken, Head of HR Measurement and Research at the Royal Bank of Scotland, Suzanne Laverick, UK Employee Benefits Manager at Cadbury Schweppes and Clare Curran, Director of Human Resources at Northumberland University discuss how to get employees to go the extra mile, whether private sector employees are more engaged than those in the public sector and how engagement can be measured. They explain how they have increased employee engagement and how these efforts have benefited their organisations. Mike Emmott, CIPD’s adviser on Employee Relations, reveals the results of a recent survey of employee engagement.


Rajan Datar: Welcome to the sixth podcast from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. I’m Rajan Datar and in this podcast we’ll be looking closely at the value of having an engaged workforce – employees who’ll go the extra mile. We pulled together a range of case studies that reflect the findings of CIPD’s latest research, ‘How engaged are British Employees?’ to bring you right up-to-date on this topical issue. And don’t forget you can download extra information from out website. Visit to find out more. 

Over the last decade the CIPD has surveyed employees’ attitudes to their work. In our latest survey, with Kingston Business School and IPSOS MORI, we explored what it takes to get employees involved, focused and passionate about what they do. Yet it seems that many organisations still struggle to demonstrate the value of engagement. And that’s why we asked those at the forefront of understanding and measuring employee engagement to share with us just how they’re going about it. 

But first Philippa Lamb asked CIPD’s Adviser of Employee Relations,Mike Emmott to sum up the overall picture. 

Philippa Lamb: Mike, you’ve conducted this very substantial survey of British employees and employee attitudes – talk me through the key findings.
Mike Emmott: Well about a third of employees say they rarely or never get feedback on their performance. Well, feedback is a basis by which people actually understand how they’re doing and how they need to improve. A similar, rather higher proportion – 2 in 5 – say they’re not told what’s going on. A quarter of employees, never, or rarely or never, feel that their work matters. Looking further up the organisation, looking at top management, only 2 in 5 think that top management treats them with respect. Those are all elements in getting an engaged workforce and yet organisations perform very poorly. It’s not that nobody’s doing it right but it’s just the massive gap between the proportion that could be getting it right and those that are. 

RD: One organisation that is getting it right is Royal Bank of Scotland Group. And key to their success is to distinguish between satisfaction and engagement. Greig Aitken, Head of HR Research and Measurement at RBS talked us through their approach. 

Greig Aitken: In terms of engagement, the differentiator there is that satisfaction and commitment are not necessarily ones that I could really link to business performance. So, if you’re satisfied, i.e. do you like it here, you could be surfing the web for seven hours for all I know. And similarly with commitment, it’s do you like it here, and do you want to stay. The real differentiator is do you like it here, do you want to stay, and will you go that extra mile, are you highly engaged in the organisation you work for. Being able to understand that, and take action on it, is a real differentiator for companies. 

RD: So being able to understand whether employees are truly engaged, and take action on what you know about them is what makes the difference. However, it’s equally important to communicate your actions and to recognise that different areas of a business may need different approaches. Suzanne Laverick, UK Employee Benefits Manager at Cadbury Schweppes told Philippa about some of the challenges she faces. 

PL: Communication’s obviously a huge part of all this – no point in doing all these surveys or having these processes if it’s not communciated clearly to the staff what’s out there. Is that a particular problem on the production side of the business?
Suzanne Laverick: Yeah, communication is a huge challenge, specifically in my area which is employee benefits. We have a really comprehensive benefits programme but it’s an absolute nightmare to be able to get out into the production areas to talk to people about the programme. So you know, I’ve worked in the manufacturing area so I know what the barriers are and, you know, that not necessarily all the communications get through to the line. And also, that they don’t necessarily think that people are particulalry bothered, that they’re just there to produce chocolate and that’s it. So for me it’s become more of a personal thing to make sure that those people feel like they’re being listened to, and that the company’s doing something for them. 

RD: Being listened to is key to feeling valued and it’s vital that everyone is included. Suzanne told us more about the important role line managers have to play in improving employee engagement. 

SL: What we have done is actually engaging our line managers and actually saying to them that they value the programme that it’s only right we get to talk to their team about what the benefits could be to them. And we’re just in the process now of doing one-to-one briefings across all our manufacturing sites in the UK with reference to our choices/benefits programme. And the feedback has been overwhelming, it’s been superb, so, yeah, communication is huge.
PL: And yes, as you say, if there has been a bit of a them and us culture between, perhaps, the clerical and management staff and the production staff, which obviously you’re addressing, but if it’s there, I imagine there are some… some trust issues at the production end of the business about whether they want to engage with all this stuff which may or may not be in offer, so it’s quite a tricky message to get across, that it’s there for them and that they should take it up. 

SL: It is, I mean, we’ve found that employees are engaged by personal experiences from other people within their team that they know and that they trust. We did have an instance a couple of months back whereby one particular person within a team at our Sheffield site had had an awful lot of problems wthin their family because they hadn’t had a will. We offer a will writing service within our flexible benefits programme and their whole team have signed up for them. But I think it’s really important that we’re now starting to get employees to also talk about the benefits that they’ve taken advantage of and how they can then benefit other people.

RD: There’s no doubting the power of word-of-mouth as Suzanne’s example shows.

Okay, so far we’ve heard from two private sector organisations, both committed to employee engagement. But how do levels of engagement differ in the public sector. Philippa asked the CIPD’s Mike Emmott for his view. 

PL: Is there a marked private/public sector divide in employee engagement and happiness?
ME: Consistently, with all the work we’ve done on employee attitudes through the last ten years, the public sector comes out bottom of the heap. Central Government figures are fairly appalling. The rest of the public sector consistently underperforms the private sector in terms of engagement. It’s a figure we’ve seen going right back through all our attitude surveys. Not totally clear why that is, but we attribute it largely to the fact that working in a political environment it’s very hard for senior managers to adopt the sort of role that private sector managers would do. I think there is an endemic problem in getting an engaged workforce in the public sector and until they’ve cracked it, efforts at public sector reform are going to be hamstrung. 

RD: So the research clearly shows that currently overall private sector organisations are having a better time of securing an engaged workforce. That’s why we were interested to hear Northumberland University’s employee engagement story. Philippa chatted with their Director of Human Resources, Clare Curran. 

PL: We’ve heard about how large corporates have been dealing with employee satisfaction in the private sector but I imagine that the issues confronting you are rather different. 

Clare Curran: Yes, I think they are. I think that from a university perspective, although we’re very much into communication with our students, one of the things we haven’t been particularly wonderful about is understanding what staff’s views are, and thoughts are. We’ve done a large pay modernisation project in the last 24 months, and during that period what we realised was, we weren’t actually understanding what our staff wanted – we didn’t understand their views and thoughts. So what we’ve done is we’ve started by looking at setting up staff forums, we have a staff communication group which has representatives from every school and service, and myself and my colleagues said ‘right, we’re gonna have…’ and we had 19 communication sessions one week and we got about 1,500 to 2,000 staff attending – it’s fantastic, first time ever. 
So it’s a real opportunity for us. We’re only starting, we’ve never done a staff survey and that’s one of the things we’re going to do this year for a first time. So for us we’re very much on the beginning of the track. 

PL: Because it is amazing, talking to RBS and Cadbury’s Schweppes, the engagement they get from their employees, in terms of engaging with the staff surveys is extraordinary. They’re getting 80% to 90% responses on these. So you can really see the benefit of getting them to connect. But… (quietly) your people seem quite testing.
CC: I think our staff survey will get a very low response first time round because I think staff will be concerned about who’s going to deal with it, where are the responses going, and, actually, will this organisation deliver on anything. And I think once we’ve done it, and they can see some delivery of some of the areas that have come up, we’ll get a better engagement the next time round.
PL: So from the conversations you’ve had so far, particularly with your academic staff are you starting to form a picture of what sort of things add up, or are you not at that stage yet?
CC: I understand some of the things they’re looking for, and there’s something around the workload. Looking at the workloads they have, they all feel, in some cases, over-worked, have very particular periods of time where they’re stressed, when they’re looking at the markings. They have large student groups so you’re looking at three, four hundred in some lecture groups and teaching groups and they need to do their assessments, and they don’t feel they have the time to engage in the research activities and they’d love to do more of that. So some of the things that we’ve done in the last couple of years, is actually put in a career programme for our academic staff. So we’ve looked at career paths down the research route, the learning and teaching route, and the enterprise route. So we’re now starting to listen to what the academic staff want and we’ve put these things in place, but we’ve a long way to go. 

RD: Once again we come back to the importance of listening to employees. But that’s not all. Mike Emmott revealed more. 

ME: If you want an engaged work force three things really matter. One is you’ve got to listen to what employees say to you, you’ve got tell them what’s going on and explain, you’ve got to communicate, in other words, it’s both upwards and downwards, you’ve got to communicate. And thirdly, you’ve got to treat them with respect. So those three things. It’s good communication plus respect will take you a very long way. 

PL: Which all sounds great, but I see you quoted as describing the relationship between employer and employees in many British workplaces as a marriage under stress, so I take it this is not happening.
ME: I think our conclusion from the work we’ve done is that there is a lot more employers can do. One in three, roughly one in three, employees are engaged, but it could be so much higher. 

Interlude:‘The CIPD podcast’ 

RD: One organisation that definitely knows how to make that figure higher is RBS. They have a succinct way of expressing what they want to achieve. 

GA: The three main components for RBS – it’s say, stay, and strive. It’s about: do you say great things about the company; do you have an intense desire to stay with the company; and importantly do you exert that extra effort, that discretionary effort and go that extra mile.

PL: So, I can really see the point of that. It’s common sense in many ways, isn’t it, if people are, as you say engaged, enthusiastic, positive they’re going to work harder. But how do you measure that?
GA: For us, we work hard at two levels. One is an overall engagement score, based on these three components – say, stay and strive. And we do that consistently across 150,000 people, in 30 countries, across 40 brands. And for us that allows us to get a consistent benchmarkable measure for engagement across a workforce. And then that’s underpinned by a number of driver questions that allow us to understand what to do to improve engagement. So it’s not just about the pure engagement score. It’s about what actions demonstrably a manager can take to really increase engagement in his or her business unit.
PL: Do you find that your people want to be bothered with these staff surveys, you know, there’s a lot of negativity around staff surveys - what sort of response do you get?
GA: Our response rate is phenomenal. It’s 87% worldwide and online it’s 94%.
PL: How do you manage that?
GA: For us it’s been a real commitment to doing something with the survey. There’s only one thing worse than not doing a survey and that’s doing a survey and doing nothing with it. 

RD: A valuable reminder there that doing surveys are not the answer. It’s what you do with the findings that really matters. Earlier we learned that Northumberland University are about to do their first ever staff survey. Clare Curran told Philippa what they hoped to achieve. 

CC: One of my tasks is about engaging the management of the university to accept that first time we’ll find a number of negatives, but we can turn them into positives, and then it will make us much more of an employer of choice not only within the region, but also nationally and internationally, and that’s what we need to do. And I think that’s the difficulty for them.
PL: So they need to learn to behave more like private sector managers really.
CC: I won’t say private sector managers. I think that what they need to learn is, is that where there are difficulties and problems, if they address them, they will improve their services. And I’m not sure that’s private sector, I think that’s just general, good management. 

PL: Presumably as an academic institution, you can’t just throw money at this problem, can you? Your pockets aren’t as deep as some of the larger corporates we’ve been speaking to, so you have to be quite creative about your solutions.
CC: We’re very creative about our solutions. We don’t have a lot of money to throw at staff, but what we have done, we’ve set our stall out to pay at the upper quartile of the market. So in putting our new pay structure in to the university we moved away from the national recommended model, deliberately so, so we can be attractive. And we just look at the environment, and we look at the way they work and offer them opportunities and benefits, and so they need to know what we’re going to do, and then we’re need to respond back to them. 

RD: While some of the parameters may be sector specific, as Clare says, a lot comes down to general good management practices. And there is clearly enough evidence to suggest that which ever sector or industry you’re in, improving employee engagement is worth while. Mike Emmott told us why. 

ME: There’s a strong business case for employers to try and drive up engagement levels amongst their employees. Engaged employees are more committed, they perform better, they’re less likely to leave, they’re more likely to promote the organisation with their family and friends. 

RD: Some powerful messages there. So what return on investment is Northumberland University hoping for? Here’s Clare Curran. 

PL: What are you hoping to get from your people in return for the effort you’re putting in here? What more do you want to see from them?
CC: (Pause) I think to see more commitment has to be one of the key things. But I think more flexibility, so that staff aren’t just, sort of, looking in their own area of where they’re working, but they can look across the university. So where we need to grow a particular area the opportunity to move them from one area to another I think is critical. It’s something we don’t do now. Everybody sits in their own little silos. But I think as time moves on we should be looking for more flexibility, getting similar staff groups working together and working across areas rather than just in their own silo. And that has to be the future for the organisation. 

RD: A more committed and flexible organisation must be beneficial to any business. Greig Aitken takes it a step further and addresses the link between benefits and engagement. 

PL: Just paying people more money doesn’t… doesn’t solve the problem here. It doesn’t engage them, which is an interesting thing. Even more interestingly, if I understood you correctly, you’re saying that it’s not just a question of money, its benefits across the board can be used.
GA: Yeah, I think base salary is a very important aspect of why people come to work, and it’s why they’re engaged, but more importantly than that, in many cases, and studies have proved it, that it’s a total reward package, and it’s also in terms of a number of softer things in the proposition that you have from your organisation, and in some cases that could be the location of the work, it could be the workspace that you’re working in, it may well be the people you’re working with are differentiating factors.
PL: And you found a strong correlation between the more benefits that people choose or opt to have, the more engaged they are with the organisation, is that right?
GA: Yes, we’ve done a lot of work in terms of looking at how effective engagement is in rewards, through a rewards lens and staff who take three or more major components of a reward system -a flexible award - are up to 20% higher engaged in the business. And over time we’ve tracked engagement levels in RBS group across the world, and they’ve increased by 4 to 5% over the last 3 years alone.

PL: That is a fantastic achievement. All the things you’ve been talking about clearly will impact in a very positive way on recruitment, and retention, and staff satisfaction. Do they impact on the bottom line? Does the bank make more money because you do this?
GA: Undoubtedly. In areas or business units who have high levels of employee engagement, high levels of leadership, there are superior, significant increases in business performance and customer service. 

RD: Well, statistics like that are impressive and show that improving employee engagement does improve business performance. So what more can be done? Philippa asked Mike Emmott. 

PL: Are we heading in the right direction with all this, Mike, do you think, or are we just standing still?
ME: The evidence from this survey is that across the UK workforce as a whole, there’s a lot of progress needs to be made. However a real shift in the last few years is that more organisations, leading edge organisations like RBS and others have actually learnt how to reduce engagement to a sort of process that they can systematically manage and actually put numbers to, and actually deliver measurable results with. Many, many organisations, have got the message and are doing a great job. The problem as usual is to spread that knowledge, and that awareness, and that commitment across the UK economy as a whole. 

RD: Whatever stage you’re at on your journey to improve employee engagement, it seems that by recognising the value of listening to, communicating with, and respecting your employees, you can go a long way. 

Our next podcast will focus on learning and development, based on interviews with speakers at our HRD conference later this month. 

Thanks for listening and remember you can find out about all these issues and our HRD conference by visiting our website. Until next time, goodbye! 


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