The right attitude to employee engagement

Employee engagement relies on the right attitude. With this in mind, Midlands Co-operative Society has been formally surveying employee attitudes for eight years and, critically, acting on the...

Employee engagement relies on the right attitude. With this in mind, Midlands
Co-operative Society has been formally surveying employee attitudes for eight years and, critically, acting on the results.

For Midlands, its annual attitude survey is a way to understand what working for the society is really like, as well as being a key part of its performance review.

“Understanding what colleagues think is absolutely vital to identifying and addressing potential issues early,” explains General Manager Human Resources Tracey Orr. “It also helps keep colleagues feeling motivated and valued. The attitude survey is our temperature check. We’re a society with lots of growth ambitions. We need to make sure we expand in the right way, take people with us and keep employees engaged. We’re not going for growth at all costs.”

Since its launch in 2005, the survey has shown how Midlands has progressed, and helped identify new challenges. Response levels were just 21 per cent in 2005, but have been steadily improving. Last year, 95 per cent of the society’s 7,000 employees responded.

“If you ask them to fill something in, colleagues generally give you the benefit of the doubt once or twice,” Tracey explains. “Unless they can see value in doing it they won’t do it again. They know we act on the attitude survey, and that’s why they fill it in.

“We don’t identify individuals or any grouping of less than 10, so people can be really honest,” she adds. “Some things will be very site-specific. It might be something like not being happy with the fridge. We used to have really poor feedback on uniforms. From the survey we’re able to see this is an issue and follow it up.”

Critically, she adds, employees get feedback about results specific to their colleagues and their workplace, as well as on wider issues. And ‘You Say We Do’ initiatives, both big and small, use internal communication channels from videos and the intranet to posters and events to make actions on survey findings as visible as possible to employees.

All this does not come cheap. Last year the survey cost a significant amount in the tens of thousands of pounds. But there is support for it business-wide. “It’s quite nice that there’s no question that it’s worth it,” says Tracey. “People do take it seriously, at every level. It’s a key performance indicator and something that’s really important in terms of our development.”

Analysis of the survey enables each business area to respond and develop, and empowers employees to innovate and make a difference.

Following the last survey, for example, Midlands has introduced a Cycle to Work programme, through which employees can save about a third if they buy a bicycle for their journey to work.

“People probably wouldn’t phone up HR and say why don’t we do a Cycle to Work scheme,” Tracey says. “The survey provides a channel for these ideas.”

The survey comprises a series of questions about employees’ immediate work environment, from ‘does your manager treat you with fairness and respect?’ to ‘do you have all the equipment you need?’ as well as tackling bigger, society-wide issues.

In 2012, the colleague engagement score reached a high of 77 on the index scale. The highest scores were reserved for a question about colleagues knowing exactly what is expected in their role. Staff also scored highly when asked whether the society behaved ethically and responsibly, and whether it delivered good customer service.

On the whole findings were similar to the previous year, with small improvements in ratings for the brand, satisfaction with facilities and action taken as a result of the survey. Lower scoring questions were around opportunities to progress and pay and benefits along with specific business or team issues.

Most employees said their manager treats them with fairness and respect, but if the survey identifies common issues, Tracey’s team investigates to find out more. The process remains anonymous, and managers are safeguarded, but findings can help build on Midlands’ already well-developed management training system.

The attitude survey has been improved each year, Tracey says, as has the way the society feeds back results and acts on findings. This year the survey is now online, which will help make feedback and action even more timely. She says the survey is critical in maximising employee engagement, one of Midlands’ key aims, particularly in retail. “Many colleagues in retail are female, part-time, second wage earners in their household and might not have always come to the society for a career,” she says. “Sometimes there’s a challenge around getting that population to engage.”

Since the last attitude survey, the society has set up quarterly listening groups to encourage open communication between employees at all levels. A “fluid agenda” allows the groups to discuss hot topics as well as ongoing issues and findings from the attitude survey.

Recognition is another important part of Midlands’ strategy. Celebration lunches recognise exceptional work. A colleague recognition scheme allows daily recognition of good internal and external customer service, and an annual awards ceremony formally recognises employees’ achievements and efforts.

And the society’s Firefly business support programme makes it easy for employees to request help at busy times. It also provides opportunities for employees working for the business support centre – Midlands’ name for its head office — to spend time in and learn about the businesses they support, and get to know their fellow employees.

“Colleagues feeling a sense of belonging and commitment to the business is measured through colleague engagement,” says Tracey. “People who have worked in other places say we treat people differently.

“In the co-op model our values are very important and drive everything we do. We do put people at the heart of decisions. I think that’s different from other retailers.”

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