Exploring Employee Engagement in the Public Sector

It was great to get out and about this week to attend the Engage for Success event, ‘Employee Engagement in the Public Sector’ – especially as I got to see some familiar faces! What I loved most, though, was the range of content from across the public sector, including case studies from HMRC, the Royal Air Force and Norfolk County Council, along with a touch of behavioural economics thrown into the mix! There were a few bits that really resonated with me:

  • It’s great to see people move away from using employee engagement as a focus. It’s really lost its meaning and become just another buzz word. I loved seeing HMRC’s approach to looking at culture over the long-term and using insights from their survey to inform everything they do.
  • Sarah Shirtcliff and Ruth Grant from Norfolk County Council were also super inspiring as they used stories to really bring to life what it truly means to engage people around a purpose. It got me thinking that we sometimes produce our best work when in crisis mode – it makes us pull together! How can we create interventions in the workplace to bring out this fighting spirit?
  • I loved the energy that Glenn Tunstall brought to the event too – now working in consulting but having formerly held a senior position in the Met Police. He really used the power of storytelling to reinforce how hard it is to change the culture, wherever you are, and to keep going despite all the setbacks. This reminds me of so many conversations I’ve had with clients over the years. Resilience is key and makes it even more important to have strong peer networks inside and outside the organisation to keep you going and pick you up when you’re having a bad day. He also reinforced the need to remind people what you have done – the ‘You Said, We Did’ approach that we often talk about at WorkBuzz.
  • Finally – and the bit that brought tears to my eyes – was the session run by Tony Vickers-Byrne from CIPD on ‘compassion in the workplace’. This was a really thought-provoking session and if you’re working on any D&I projects, then I’d strongly recommend taking a peak at the video – but grab a tissue before you do! 

It’s always great to get yourself out of the office for the day, to give yourself the space to take in new ideas and learn from others. It’s my New Year’s resolution to do more of this and I’m really looking forward to attending the Employee Engagement Conference in April. Hopefully, we’ll see some of you there!

Breaking the myth employees leave managers not companies

With Brexit looming and record levels of UK employment, employee retention has never been more important. Whilst some churn is healthy, introducing new blood and ideas, many organisations need to manage and reduce their current level of staff turnover. As well as direct costs like recruitment, on-boarding and training, high employee turnover can negatively impact customer relationships and can be corrosive for the company culture.

From our perspective, the key to improving employee retention is identifying your greatest attrition risks (whether they are in particular departments or at specific stages of the employee life-cycle), and, secondly, the reasons why employees may be considering leaving. With this information in hand you can take action before your best talent walks out the door.

What we’ve been told

Conventional wisdom and countless articles tell us that people leave their jobs because of bad managers. Thinking about our own personal experiences, many of us may be able recall at least one toxic manager. Perhaps they were disengaged themselves; they didn’t lead by example; or they were prone to micro-management. But is this the norm? Whilst no manager is perfect, are the majority so bad that this is the single biggest reason why people leave their jobs? Or are there bigger factors at play?

Our research

In WorkBuzz engagement surveys, we recommend asking employees if they would choose to stay working at their company, even if they were offered a similar job elsewhere. If they say they would consider leaving, we then ask them why:

By aggregating this data across WorkBuzz clients, assessing 23,500 individuals, we were able to see the main reasons why employees said they would consider leaving. Here’s what we found:

The results are startling – only 1 in 8 (13%), cited their manager as a contributing factor. The top reasons – a lack of career opportunities dissatisfaction with pay and recognition were cited at least three times more often!

Now, there are some caveats. Firstly, WorkBuzz clients aren’t fully representative of all companies – the fact that they’re investing in tracking their culture and employee experience may mean that they’re more likely to be investing in developing their people managers, so they’re better than average. However, the fact that employees were three times more likely to cite a lack of career opportunities or appreciation is telling.

Secondly, managers can and do impact these factors – if they’re helping to coach their team members and discuss this career aspirations, their team members are more likely to feel that they can grow and develop their career. That said, bigger cultural issues are at play, such as whether the company has mapped out career paths; whether it allocates budget for training and development; and whether it has well publicised role models who have progressed through the ranks.

We’d therefore urge you not to focus too much on the percentages shown above, but on the order: for most employees a lack of career opportunities and pay and recognition are the key factors that will affect whether they would consider leaving.


Understanding what drives staff turnover for your organisation

Your organisation is unique and what drives employee turnover will differ compared to the averages we’ve shared above. To start, in your engagement survey, we recommend that you repeat the above steps, confidentially asking prospective leavers the reason(s) why they may be considering leaving and supplementing this with exit interview data. We’re not huge fans of exit interviews, however, because employees have often psychologically checked-out by the time they hand in their notice.

It’s also crucial to look at this by each stage of the employee life-cycle. For example, newer employees in the honeymoon period may be really satisfied with their development and feeling appreciated. However, this may quickly wear off when they’re no longer a newbie.

Finally, look at this by demographics like age and department. If you have a high percentage of people in a given office saying that they are considering leaving because of their manager, this may well be a warning sign. Recruitment source can also be interesting – you may find employees who have heard about the job via an employee referral may be a better cultural fit and less likely to say that they are considering leaving.

WorkBuzz Celebrates Excellence In Employee Engagement In Small-To-Medium Businesses

WorkBuzz is very proud to be presenting the SMB Company of the Year award (representing companies with under 5,000 employees) at the Employee Engagement Awards today.

Steven Frost, our CEO said, “SMBs form the backbone of our economy, so it’s really important to us at WorkBuzz to support these firms. Whatever industry you’re in, scaling a company from a startup to an enterprise is one of the hardest challenges that there is – and getting the culture right is an absolutely key part of that process.”

WorkBuzz’s clients cross all sectors and include Hanson, The Royal British Legion, VolkerWesselsUK, The Joseph Roundtree Foundation and O2. Our technology is geared to help companies collect regular, real-time feedback and to hence enable them to make smarter people decisions and drive positive change – something that’s critical for growing businesses. Our platform helps you identify the data points that matter, and provides smart analytics, setting manager priorities and offering assessments against industry-standard benchmarks.

WorkBuzz is a Platinum sponsor of the Employee Engagement Awards, being held today on Thursday 24th January, and will also be exhibiting at the Employee Engagement Awards Conference 2019 on 16th April.

Why Employee Engagement Matters

It might seem like employee engagement is a nice-to-have – but it’s actually closely connected to the bottom line.

If you’re doing hiring and firing right, it might seem like having a high level of employee engagement is simply a bonus. However, research has proven that engagement is closely connected to the bottom line.

In 2009, the UK government commissioned The MacLeod Report – one of the largest studies into employee engagement ever published. It found firm evidence that improving engagement correlates closely with improving organisational performance.

What’s more, there’s a wide body of literature that explores how the performance of engaged employees compares with that of their disengaged colleagues – and it underlines just how important engagement is.

Findings include:

  • Engaged employees generate 43% more revenue (Hay Group, 2001)
  • 70% of engaged employees have a good understanding of how to meet customer needs; only 17% of disengaged employees say the same (Right Management, 2006).
  • 9/10 of the key barriers to the success of change programmes are people-related (PwC, 2000).
  • Engaged employees are more likely to embrace change and suggest new ideas (PwC, 2000).
  • Engaged employees in the UK take an average of 3.5 fewer sick days each year (cited in The MacLeod Report).
  • Engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave the organisation, significantly reducing recruitment costs (Corporate Leadership Council, 2004).

And this fact is recognised by some of the most innovative companies in the world. “Google would not have been able to innovate as quickly as it has, nor create the products it has in such a short space of time without highly valuing employee engagement,” said Liane Hornsey, Director of People Operations, Google.

Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, meanwhile, rates employee engagement as being as important as cash flow and customer satisfaction. “There are only three measurements that tell you nearly everything you need to know about your organization’s overall performance: employee engagement, customer satisfaction and cash flow,” he said. “It goes without saying that no company, small or large, can win over the long run without energised employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.”

Higher Productivity, Customer Satisfaction and Profitability

Fundamentally, engagement is the glue that holds the organisation together – and it’s about far more than simply limiting staff turnover. Here are three more studies that highlight just how important engagement really is.

Study 1:

Gallup (2006) examined 23,910 business units and compared top and bottom quartile financial performance and engagement scores. They found that:

Those with engagement scores in the top quartile averaged 12% higher customer advocacy, 18% higher productivity and 12% higher profitability.

Those with engagement scores in the bottom quartile averaged 31-51% higher employee turnover and 62% more accidents.


Study 2:

A Watson Wyatt (2009) study of 115 companies suggested that those with highly engaged employees will perform, in financial terms, four times better than companies with poor levels of engagement.

Study 3:

The Corporate Leadership Council (2008) reported that engaged organisations grew profits as much as three times faster than their competitors. They also found that highly engaged organisations have the potential to reduce staff turnover by 87%.

The annual survey isn’t dead yet

In recent years there’s been much talk about whether the annual employee engagement survey is dead.

With 7 in 10 organisations still running their employee engagement survey in an annual cycle, it’s clearly not dead, but at WorkBuzz we say it’s more undead than anything else.


Well, employees are expecting change faster. And a lot happens in a year – if you’re only measuring your employees’ engagement and asking for their opinions once a year, you may be missing out on important opportunities to take a measure of your organisation.

Wouldn’t you like to understand how employees feel about new business initiatives or programmes when they’re introduced? Gauge their opinion on leadership and how change is being managed as it happens? Would it be helpful to understand where problems with line management are arising so they can be nipped in the bud, rather than going unnoticed for a year?

By nature of an annual surveys’ ‘regularity’, many organisations are trapped into thinking of engagement as a one-off annual event. A continuous programme of engagement is better supported by having shorter, more regular surveys that can then be discussed and acted on with employees so it becomes a regular occurrence in their working lives. By treating engagement this way, many organisations struggling to retain their staff have been successful in uncovering reasons people will leave the organisation, and addressing them before they do.

Organisations that have broken away from this more traditional method, in favour of more regular surveys are more satisfied. 67% of those who run quarterly surveys stated they were either ‘Very Satisfied’ or ‘Satisfied’, compared with 51% of those that run annual surveys and 44% of those who run their employee engagement survey every 18 months.[1]

Because of the changing expectations of employees, as well as the appetite from employers to get more feedback in a timely way and improve manager competence, we believe the annual survey is like a zombie – it’s functional and will continue to give you all the things you’d expect of an engagement survey, but it’s rotting away and eventually it will not serve the needs of future employee bases who expect their voices heard, and feedback to be acted on instantly.

With all this to contend with, it’s important that an organisation introduces engagement surveys at a pace in line with the heartbeat of change of the organisation. For that reason, at WorkBuzz we made a simple list of pros and cons of the traditional annual survey vs. a more regular pulse survey to help you decide what will work best for you:

How quarterly pulse surveys and traditional annual surveys compare:

Still not sure? Request a demo here and we’ll give you a call to help you decide what makes most sense for your organisation.

[1] https://www.hrzone.com/resources/the-state-of-employee-engagement-in-2018