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Managers key to influencing engagement

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HR director for Unum, Nancy Ames, shares her professional experiences at the Ceridian Conference 2016

Managers can be the key to influencing engagement, according to Unum's HR director Nancy Ames.

Speaking at a panel discussion titled ‘Does employee engagement drive business value and improve the service value chain?’ at the Ceridian Conference 2016, Ames cited the responses to an engagement survey conducted by Unum that revealed the extremely negative effect bad management can have. “Those that were most engaged did not mention their managers,” she said. “Those with low scores, or those who went on to turn over [leave the company], did talk about their managers in their survey response."

Ames also discussed the importance of vision. “We brought in a new CEO with a new vision for the company; a new idea of what we needed to be. That took us from an organisation that was not very profitable to one that was, and our engagement score went from OK to very good.”

Former HR director for the UK and Ireland region of G4S, Joanne Smith explained that many people do not understand her reasons for joining her previous company at first, especially when she tells them she joined after the London Olympics. “Its staff were getting abused if they wore their uniforms while out shopping. It wasn't used to that,” she said, explaining that the attraction was the challenge of turning this low morale around.

“It was doing staff surveys but then not delivering on its promises. Worse, management would do nothing so employees felt those surveys were a waste of their time," she said. “So we decided to make good on our promises, do staff surveys every six months instead of annually, and set up a leadership programme. We also gave briefings to frontline staff so they knew what was happening.”

Nicky Riding, UK and Europe people director for Standard Life, discussed the importance of integrity. “I left RBS because I felt my value set did not align with what was happening in the organisation,” she said. “Trust is the first factor of engagement. I had lost that trust.”

Panel chair Jeremy Campbell, chief people officer for Ceridian UK and Ireland, related his own experiences of helping other businesses with engagement. “When we visit clients and see their annual reports on the first or second page you always see a comment along the lines of ‘our people are our greatest asset’,” he said. “But while that’s a great statement, it’s not always true.”