Sodexo HRD: Opportunity lies in engaging individuals


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Engagement can’t continue to be a top-down approach, but should build from the individual

Employee engagement has come a long way in recent years. From its early guise as ‘employee satisfaction’ to ‘employee commitment’, it has now become a common term and practice in most businesses. Even if they don’t necessarily use the term officially every credible employer aims to have an engaged workforce.

But what stands out about this area of HR is how many practitioners are still using a generalist approach, missing an opportunity to truly engage with employees.

For employee engagement to evolve and prosper we can’t simply rely on the bog-standard annual survey, which at times distracts people from their core work, taking weeks to analyse with the outcome being a 100-point action plan for improvement. While these do have a valid place for measuring certain indicators of engagement they don’t always offer the full picture. They can cause you to lose the basic essence of employee engagement by being too focused on dealing with tasks rather than the people.

Instead it should focus on understanding how involved workers feel both in their own role and their wider workplace.

Engagement can’t continue to be a top-down approach, but should build from the individual. Our role as employers is to understand what makes each employee feel valued, and where they can deliver value for themselves and the organisation while creating meaningful work.

Most standard employee engagement programmes are based on the majority or ‘average’ workers’ needs and wants. This is understandable but the opportunity lies in engaging the individual, which is where line managers play a vital role.

Line managers should not forget that one size does not fit all. While the business might have a company-wide approach or policy, managers are perfectly placed to engage by getting to know personal working styles and motivations.

Diversity and equality are regularly discussed in the media and the boardroom but aside from the statistical side of the argument, how can managers create an environment where individuals are encouraged and enabled to be their true selves at work?

An authentic, honest manager who embodies the values of the company, treats people with respect, and understands them beyond their role will ultimately have a more engaged team, irrespective of any 100-point plan.

For the first time we have five generations in the workforce, and flexible and remote working are more common than ever, meaning people’s reasons for working and expectations from their employers are and will continue to be extremely varied. Any employer who fails to acknowledge these differences will very likely fail to engage at all.

In my experience if we can tune in to what individuals are saying, listen to them and take action, they will feel engaged.

By considering engagement as part of the day-to-day philosophy of an organisation, creating meaningful and effective relationships that help employees to develop, it will undoubtedly improve.

If people feel that they have been listened to, if feedback is two-way, open and honest, if they feel that they can contribute to decisions, then they can play an active role in driving improvements. I can’t think of a single high-performing business that doesn’t seek to constantly improve.

I’m a keen believer in the relationship between engagement, productivity and company profitability. Improve the former and you will see an increase in the latter, and vice versa. So as we continue to push engagement higher up the HR agenda, if not the business agenda as a whole, let’s aim to keep the individual at the heart of it.

Andy Rogers is HR director for Sodexo UK & Ireland

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