“Working in the public sector we’ve faced financial challenges that all local government has gone through. And because we don’t want to compromise on our service to the community, we have to go through many redesigns that can make engagement difficult as well,” explains James Kent, strategic delivery officer at Wiltshire Council.
Which is why, after feedback from a staff survey in 2016, the HR and OD team decided to focus on employee engagement.
Kent admits spending “a long time working out at the beginning” what exactly engagement meant to the council. It settled on creating a strategy around the four enablers defined by Engage for Success, and set up channels for employees to share their ideas for improvements in those areas.
The first step was to focus on employee voice. As well as redesigning the staff engagement forums, key to this was setting up a volunteer group dedicated to employee engagement called Team #EPIC, whose role is to deliver engagement initiatives. “This group is by staff for staff so they feel empowered by it,” says Kent.
Team #EPIC then divided into smaller teams to work on specific initiatives. Kent points to the peer-to-peer employee recognition scheme EPIC impressions as one of the biggest successes – an idea born out of employee feedback and which allows staff to send bespoke digital ‘badges’ to each other.
“Not only does the person receive a badge and know they’ve done good work but their manager finds out as well, when managers otherwise may not have known,” he says. The badges stay permanently on the employee’s HR record, meaning they can be used in appraisals too.
Another concept to come out of the engagement group is EPIC ideas, an employee suggestion scheme. Other activity includes introducing the requirement that all managers complete an engagement module as part of their training, and HR, #EPIC and comms forming an internal comms taskforce.
The results are evidenced in Wiltshire Council’s engagement index score rising from 58 in November 2016 to 83 in February 2018. “Then we can look at other things too; so for example we can see month-on-month use of EPIC impressions badges is growing. So that indicates staff are engaging with it,” Kent says. “That’s been going on for 2.5 years and there’s been more than 12,000 impressions so it’s really caught on.”
He adds: “With a large disparate workforce someone could be engaged with the service but not with the organisation as a whole. Which is why putting the employer brand at the centre of engagement work is important to us.”