Lincoln Lawyer: Should bosses engage with their employees?

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— Kate Reynolds joined McKinnells Solicitors in Lincoln in 2011, after she qualified as a solicitor in 2008 and worked on a wide range of both contentious and non-contentious matters including employment matters, judicial review proceedings, planning disputes, boundary disputes and construction work including advice on contracts and adjudication.

Every quarter there is a survey commissioned by the CIPD to find out what employees think about their working lives. What was noticeable about the latest findings was that almost three quarters of those surveyed said that they felt neutral when it came to their engagement at work. Now that can’t be a good thing for employers.

Employers need engaged employees. Engaged employees are committed to the company and its values, they deliver improved business performance and they are prepared to go the extra mile.

Engagement goes beyond job satisfaction and is more than motivation. It’s something the employee needs to feel and so subsequently give the best of themselves at work. You could say that engaged and motivated employees have eaten three shredded-wheat and there’s no stopping them.

There is clear evidence that those people who are actively engaged at work achieve a better work-life balance and have greater life satisfaction and happiness, they enjoy more positive relationships with colleagues at work and they generally feel that life is worthwhile. These employees are less likely to be anxious or feeling under pressure at work or to be looking for a new job.

How can this be achieved though, given the rounds of pay cuts and freezes, short-time working and redundancies associated with the economic slump? The first step is to measure employee attitudes about work including pay and benefits, communication, training and coaching, line management and work-life balance.

The drive for an engaged workforce builds on good people management, development policies and active support by managers. Engagement isn’t about making people work harder, but providing the conditions under which they’ll work more effectively and we all know that when we’re happy, we are far more productive.

The CIPD survey revealed that whilst 72% of employees felt that their immediate managers treated them fairly, only 30% felt that their development needs were met, and that covers things like training, coaching and feedback which are all vitally important in nurturing an engaged employee.

In order to be engaged, an employee has to feel that there is a mutual respect and need and that they have a part to play in the success of the organisation. This is sometimes referred to as a psychological contract with the employer where both parties are clear what’s required of them, and both are fully committed to achieving it.

This is quite distinct from the contract of employment, as engagement can never be required as part of the legal relationship. Not surprisingly, communication is a key to unlocking employee potential as employees who feel that their views are important are far more likely to be engaged.

But why stop at personal development? Some employers are going a step further and looking at a wider picture to create positive conditions for their employees. For instance, there was a recent documentary about the firm Addison Lee which experimented with employees bringing children to work. Productivity increased as employee stress-levels dropped and the company also benefited from the positive PR as it showed a more human side, which its customers found irresistible.

In the USA, 18 states raised their minimum wage level last year and it’s estimated that the extra money in workers’ pay cheques will add $366 million to the country’s GDP. In the UK, the company that owns Holiday Inn is also paying well above National Minimum Wage and is finding that this fosters a loyal and hard-working workforce.

Despite these straitened times, no company can afford not to invest in its employees, and work hard to keep them. Offering enhanced pay and other benefits may sound like commercial suicide, but perhaps the opposite is true? Perhaps we need to move away from an obsession with cost-cutting and positively engage employees as that’s the way to growth, profitability and individual well-being.