The Employee Experience: How real is your employee engagement?

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We wanted to build on last month’s Remote Working vs Office Working Insight article with a closer look at the employee experience and the impact of recent changes on employee engagement.

That piece was very much focused on how organisations can best leverage remote or hybrid working. 

Taking the best of the changes arising from the lockdowns and harnessing those changes in mindset, attitude, direction, and behaviour for the good of the organisation and individual employees.

As we all know, a business is only as good as its people, however, as Howard Schultz, ex-CEO of Starbucks said:

“People want guidance, not rhetoric. They need to know what the plan of action is and how it will be implemented. They want to be given the responsibility to help solve the problem and the authority to act on it.”

There are numerous opinion pieces that look at the lessons learned from the pandemic. 

We too have looked at this in detail with one of our clients in our 13 business lessons learned from 2020 post.

Many others reference the impact of COVID on our industry.

However, maybe the biggest challenge post-COVID is not just how we shift towards greater remote working but the need for authentic leadership in our new working environments. 

Those at the top stepping up and quickly finding their post-pandemic footing.

Our Is salary the top priority for senior executives? article highlighted how our priorities are shifting. 

As business leaders, we need to ensure that the people we recruit feel empowered. 

That they feel part of the organisation and the strategic direction it is heading in.

Here at Barron Williams, we’re speaking to candidates on a daily basis. 

Conversations about expectations from future roles are frequently centred around shared values, trust, empowerment and flexibility.

Organisations looking to hire the best talent will need to be able to offer that, as well as the more tangible benefits.

Mind the gap!

Another excellent recent article on Personnel Today looked at the rising sharp division between business leaders and their workers when it comes to employee engagement and experience.

It’s a common criticism and we hear it regularly… 

Business leaders are not really listening to employee concerns:

“Part of the executive’s unspoken brief is to exude positivity about the organisation, hoping this will pervade the workforce. Some complaints can be considered to be just routine grumbles but the advent of remote working en masse and the need to work differently in future may have exacerbated a divide in perceptions”

The article goes on to say that according to newly published research by Gartner HR that senior execs; “are more likely to believe they are working in a culture of flexibility than employees”. 

Additionally, they state that; “leaders are much more likely to feel trusted than workers” and that:

“Researchers found that 75% of leaders believed they were already operating within a culture of flexibility, whereas only 57% of employees agreed that their organisation embraced flexibility. Furthermore, 76% of executives felt they had equipped staff with the resources to work virtually, but only 59% of employees believed the necessary investments had been made.”

Alexia Cambon, director at Gartner HR recently also stated on LinkedIn that when it comes to employee engagement and experience: 

“One of the most concerning trends to me emerging in our research is just how wide a perception gap there is between those most likely to be making the decisions about the future of work and those who will be experiencing it but may have very little say in shaping it.”

The best leaders understand that everybody plays an important role

The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. 

Even the largest of companies have realised that without employees at all levels pulling in the same direction, they wouldn’t have plotted a course through the storm that was 2020.

Those that managed this will now have an advantage.

Are senior execs in your organisation leading? Supporting? Communicating?

Recognising they have an important role to play in departmental and wider business success. 

A true leader is able to foster a level of respect and demonstrate that they care. Period.

Even perceived divisions between leadership and employees, no matter how small, could have serious ramifications in the future. 

And with so much change over the past year, what does good management even look like?

As Senior Execs do we need to look at fine-tuning our leadership style?

Should we rip up the textbook?

Do the classic management styles still have a place in the post-COVID workplace?

Max Weber’s Bureaucratic Management Theory, Henry Fayol’s Administrative Theory, Frederick Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management, etc.

Are they too rigid? Out of touch with today? One for the MBA’s there!

They’ve provided us with frameworks, the building blocks of organisational management for, in many cases, decades.

Do principles such as division of work, specialisation, hierarchical organisation structure with authority, responsibility, and unity of direction and command ‘fit’ with a remote or hybrid working model?

The pandemic brought with it operational disruption on a massive scale. 

With it, we’re clearly seeing a shift in managerial paradigms.

Good leaders will be the ones that can shift with it. 




Have you adapted? 

I mean, really adapted?

Bottle what we’ve gleaned during the pandemic, and utilise it to gain an advantage. You should! 

Change = Opportunity. As it always has done.

What we do know is that organisations need their managers to sync their leadership and business strategy with this new way of working. Now!

They need to understand employee engagement and experience.

They need to understand how they can best motivate and how they can build/maintain team spirit. Remotely!

Trust is critical to employee engagement

Embracing a trusting, flexible and supportive form of leadership, whilst fostering employee engagement and ensuring that productivity is maintained/strategic objectives are achieved, is simpler than some may think.

Experience helps but mindset is key.

Post-Covid can we provide effective leadership and address the emerging organisational challenges arising from greater remote or hybrid working? 

The answer is, of course, yes.

Will we see the rise of the web-cam leader?

Again, another big yes! 

Team-building was never just pizza and bowling nights.

Leadership styles that effectively support individuals to achieve/exceed organisational goals in remote/hybrid workplaces are what’s required. So, let’s get on with it.

Can we effectively manage team dynamics, blurred personal and professional boundaries, with increased working-from-home?

Another yes…

The pandemic had that all-in-it-together spirit. 

Many embraced the freedom it gave them, the better work/life balance. 

We may also have discovered that some were not as good under pressure as we thought they were?

But what now restrictions are eased/easing?

Do you need to reshape your corporate culture?

Has the pandemic given organisations the opportunity to build a new company culture?

Stronger? Better? Based on trust and empowerment?

We need to recognise that many, if not most of our employees, will now want some form of flexible working. And why not?

And if not current employees, then what will we need to offer to attract talent in the future?

If their current role allows for a greater work-life balance, what can you do to attract them? 

Does your organisation have the culture to allow for such flexibility?

Low-cost flexibility such as a ‘2 days remote/3 days office’ week or flexible hours can have a big impact to those in your team.

Good leaders can focus on employee engagement mitigate employee dissatisfaction 

You need to make employees feel included whether they’re working in or out of the office.

That responsibility ultimately falls to those at the top. 

It is also what differentiates great leaders from good.

You need to help employees manage pressure and stress. 

To feel valued and supported.

Create an environment that fosters a culture of positivity and dedication.

That seeks to continuously improve employee engagement.

We must retain that ability to adapt to change (or develop it fast)

Do you have the flexibility to hire and promote employees who are resilient and adaptable? And the genuine desire to do so?

Is the biggest eye-opener of the pandemic how businesses, and we’re including the recruitment sector in this, seem to have taken for granted just how stable our cultural climate has been? 

Covid certainly blew the bloody doors off in that respect.

Those who’re agile can evolve, pivot, adapt, quickly change.

Leaders that can evolve culture to fit the mood of the workforce. Positively.

Those will be the ones that will thrive in the long run. 

They will be the companies that the best senior execs will want to work for, joining like-minded managers already in post.

What do leaders actually need to do to close the gap and improve employee engagement?

Now it is all well and good saying the above but how do you actually go about doing it?

What is the formula for better employee engagement?

Good leaders have vision, courage, humility and focus already.

But it’s how you behave.

How you interact.

Can you project the plans, the journey?

Make the bold decisions?

Remain authentic and engaging at all levels?

Can you combine all of the above with the ability to act strategically and be the catalyst to inspire your colleagues?

Can you do that with a fully or partially remote/hybrid workforce? 

Adapt and mix your comms style?

How do we ensure our employees have everything they need to effectively work from home and the office when required?

At this stage it raises more questions than it answers, we are still very much in uncharted territory. 

…But ships were built to sail not stay in the harbour.

In our opinion, some areas of focus for business leaders are:

  1. Review training methods so that remote workers gain the same level of onboarding and up-skilling as in-house. Why should it differ?
  2. Train managers in how to supervise, manage, and coach from a distance – Develop self-awareness and communication skills.
  3. Promote remote team-building (that’s a whole new blog post).
  4. Create opportunity to acknowledge performance for those working remotely – Recognise performance in a changed/changing environment.
  5. Build a consistent timetable of virtual meetings, covering everything you would cover in the office, including frustrations, wins, feedback and questions.
  6. Ensure that all hybrid and remote employees have the opportunity to engage with their team leaders, etc. Replace the social aspect of the office.

Lead by example

Fostering a positive remote/hybrid working culture, whilst minimising any potential for divisions in perception between employees and those at the top starts with solid foundations.

Start with the end goal and work back. 

Ask yourself and your colleagues:

  • What is our culture?
  • What do you want it to achieve in the way our people view us?
  • How do you want all staff to feel about working for your organisation?

How do we achieve the desired results and improve employee engagement?

  • Allowing teams/employees to manage their own diary/time more?
  • Checking in with them regularly to see they have enough time to achieve their goals?
  • Actively encouraging greater teamwork and collaboration?
  • Focusing on personality; both in your recruitment policy and across the existing teams/workforce? 
  • Finding and building the right blend of people to fit the desired culture?
  • Speaking to existing employees and finding out exactly what they want.
  • Providing everybody with the opportunity to share ways of making improvements to close that gap – Feedback is essential?
  • Providing management with access to the training to develop and improve their leadership skills via mentoring and other ‘soft’ aids?

Be proactive! 

In many cases, all your people are looking for is:

  • Clear comms from those above them
  • Leaders with honesty and integrity 
  • A strong and openly communicated ethical focus
  • The ability to resolve difficult issues
  • Regulatory/contractual compliance
  • Transparency
  • Flexibility
  • The support and resources to do their role
  • The opportunity and support for career progression

What do recruiters such as Barron Williams need to do?

Much of what we’re saying in terms of leadership you can apply to senior exec recruitment.

At Barron Williams, we too need to change with the times and practice what we preach.

Fortunately, we have the agility to embrace change.

Can the big recruitment firms say the same?

As an industry, we all re-examine and re-align our talent acquisition strategies, resources and systems?

Maybe there’ll always be an element of “them and us” between senior management and employee? 

It doesn’t have to be that way though!

Our responsibility is to find and place the leaders that can bridge (and close) that gap for our clients, where required. And we screen for that!

A shift in leadership style is needed to manage remote/hybrid teams, we too must take advantage of the rise in video/remote meetings. 

Much of the hiring process can be done virtually, especially during the early stages of the process, saving the cost of travel and time.

But could it go even further than that?

Technology has been key to helping us keep up with both employee and candidate expectations during the last 12+ months.

At Barron Williams, we’re using technology to our advantage.

Automation is helping us to streamline the interview and assessment process, and this is having a massive positive impact on the candidate experience.

Just like it is expected in the workplace, it is now critical in recruitment.

…But there needs to be synergy between Barron Williams and our clients! 

We have to sell your role to the best people, to do that, we need to believe in you. 

As we’ve stressed in a number of articles on this blog, candidate experience is critical. 

It starts from the moment we make contact – Why should people trust us?

In this article, we’ve focused on employee engagement and, in particular, the importance of adapting management styles in the face of changing working practices.

Those organisations that do this well will have an advantage… 

Both in retaining their best people and attracting similar in the future.

If you’re looking for new leadership in your organisation, please use our Client Upload Form or Call Us now.

If you’re looking for your next senior exec role, then please feel free to Upload Your CV or Call Us for an exploratory conversation.

Barron Williams

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