Engagement requires a rethink

Employee needs have changed in this tougher climate; engagement programmes must also adapt.

I doubt anyone would argue with the sentiment that it's easier keeping people engaged when times are good. When times are good employee engagement survey results tend to be positive, people are happy to come to work and they enjoy being there too.

As leaders of businesses we all want to create somewhere great to work, but in today's climate it is becoming increasingly difficult. It would be inappropriate to maintain the type of activity many of us have been fortunate to experience as part of our employee engagement programmes if the financial figures are not adding up. However, given the professional concerns and the personal challenges put upon our people through this looming recession, I feel it is now even more important for organisations to engage their people.

I believe we need to focus our efforts on a few crucial areas and we will only know what these are, and what is important to staff during this time, by remaining as close to them as we possibly can.

First and foremost, this really is the time to step up and lead - we need to be seen as the people who stay at the front and guide others. It is important we are highly visible and are seen to be part of the team. Employees need to believe there truly is a collective approach to managing the hard times and everyone is in it together. They want us to have empathy, be as open as we can, and be honest at all times. It is imperative we maintain a number of channels to encourage open dialogue - and listening is essential.

Some time ago, Simplyhealth decided that its employee engagement programme needed to be reflective of the times. In our market of financial services and healthcare the trading conditions were challenging and, in parallel, many of our employees were experiencing the effects of this tough climate in their personal lives - fear of rising unemployment, increased mortgage payments, larger food bills and fuel costs.

Whereas before we recognised that our charitable and community activities truly engaged our people, we know their needs have now changed. So the objective has been to deliver an engagement programme that focuses on their financial wellbeing instead. The programme has been designed to be both proactive, and responsive to financial pressures, and have a positive impact on the overall health and financial wellbeing of employees.

By ensuring these programmes and initiatives are relevant to the times, organisations will find - as Simplyhealth has - that staff will recognise and appreciate the activities and continue to do the right thing for the company.

Our financial wellbeing programme has given employees' financial awareness a general boost and they have become more creative in seeking ways to both protect themselves and be more proactive. This goes some way to creating a workforce that is both more self-reliant and better appreciates the pressures faced by their employers.

Simplyhealth's programme required some creative thought from HR but it cost very little and we have all gained so much. By educating and informing, networking and sharing, we are providing a programme that adapts and bends to withstand the current challenges. By sharing new ideas and promoting what is already available, you help staff get the best out of their time at work and the benefits available to them.

The skills and behaviours of line managers and leaders play a crucial part at this time. This, along with a focused, but not flamboyant engagement and communication programme will ultimately help ensure you weather these times with a committed workforce intent on making a difference.

Mark Day is executive director, human resources, Simplyhealth.