Monday, 13 March 2017

11 Things we learned about Staff Engagement at the 2017 Health at Work Conference - NEC Birmingham, March 7th & 8th 2017

I was lucky enough to be available to attend the second day of the prestigious conference in the NEC in Birmingham this year. Travelling from Ireland meant a lot of time on the road, but once we touched down in England we could access the NEC with only a quick shuttle and a short walk. The venue is extremely accessible, and although it is quite large the exhibition and talks were all kept in a relatively concise area, with plenty of food and beverage options closeby. But enough about the amazing venue. The event was very well organised, buzzing with professionals and expertise. Every stand you approached and every table you sat at to rest your feet and enjoy a coffee, there was an intellectual or business opportunity.

My main focus was on the Employee Engagement and Performance programme. I also spent a lot of time strolling through the exhibition, having conversations with like-minded individuals and being awed at the diversity of organisations and their methods. I have arrived back in Ireland with two branded cloth bags of brochures, leaflets, booklets and novelty freebies which I can’t wait to sift through. The whole event was an information goldmine if you were strategic enough about your intentions.

The talks which I attended were given by experts in the area, and were diverse in their delivery and content. These are the main points they made, which any employer should take note of if they are trying to engage their workforce.

  1. There is a global rise in Reward and Recognition

Francis Goss from Engage for Success started off the sessions with plenty of energy and spoke about the global rise in organisations using incentives and reward systems to acknowledge their productive staff. Positive engagement with your people can result in a great customer service. He was passionate about listening to the employee voice, and incorporating a strategic narrative when planning to heighten staff engagement. Engaged employees are healthier, and healthier employees are engaged.

  1. Benefits tap into human emotion

For a benefit to be truly meaningful, it has to mean something to the person. What matters to most people is their health, family and finances. By providing a relevant benefit, you develop a psychological contract with your employees and show that you care.
Make an emotional connection to have the most positive impact on your staff.


  1. Rewards meet a fundamental human need

Appreciation is a major motivator, in any area of life. Without being told that your actions are worthwhile, why bother pushing yourself to do your best when you feel no one notices? And if they do notice, and aren’t even acknowledging it, that is nearly worse. A simple “well done” can boost morale with immediate effect, however making active staff appreciation a long-term plan paints the picture of a company who is willing to put time and effort into making their staff feel positive about their employment experience.

  1. Employee Voice

So you have an enthusiastic group of managers and HR team, and they are passionate about making your workplace a happy one. Their attitude is great, and their enthusiasm is high. They take time to brainstorm ideas, work together to come up with the best ideas and events, and no one shows up. Now they are deflated and unmotivated. They think the staff aren’t interested. Well, they probably aren’t.

The reason your team have failed is because they didn’t take into account what the employees feel they need. Sure the cycling group was a great idea, but did anyone ask staff if they even own a bike? The only way to begin any staff engagement programme is to do a needs assessment. This can be done through a focus group, a meeting, a survey, or even reviewing some previous requests by staff. It doesn’t have to be difficult or technical, however it does need as much active input as possible. One size does not fill all organisations. You need to remember to treat your people with the uniqueness they deserve.

In the same thread, it is best to pilot any programme based on data previously gathered. Your employees may have different interests than other groups, but there are many blueprints which are relatively universal, give or take a few tweaks to fit it into your organisational needs. Don’t dismiss the experts. You can find some interesting papers and data on

As well as communicating with staff prior to the initiation of a programme, continuous evaluation is important. It is worth getting some feedback during a set of activities and following their completion. This will help to address needs, expectations and planning. It is vital to ensure that programmes are as tailored to employees’ needs as possible.

  1. Non monetary rewards

Financial benefits are of course appreciated, however employers don’t need to spend the big bucks to show employee that they care. Making money is not the sole reason for people to go to work. Some have personal goals, or just want to love what they do. It gives individuals a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment at the end of their day (ideally). Many want to earn recognition and respect as well as financial gains. Non cash incentives can be just as meaningful if not more so than a monetary reward.

  1. Make it interesting

moveOne of my favourite presentations of the day was from Active Working CIC. Unfortunately the presenter’s name was not on the programme, but I really loved their upbeat approach. In a short 5 minutes, they got us all up and about and moving, and quickly explained the benefit of mild activity throughout the workday. It was interactive, and the proof was in the pudding. We all felt the atmosphere lighten slightly after standing up and giving our shoulders a wiggle. It’s not just about the information you provide, delivery is key for engagement.
Make sure that not only the content is interesting, but also the interaction with staff. This will focus attention and create a more positive uptake.

  1. Stress has many sources

Staff can feel stress from a number of different sources. In a large organisation, or in a position where someone is in contact with a vast amount of people, it can be hard to pinpoint an exact cause of stress. It can come from executives, line managers, the individual themselves or outside of the workplace. Identify sources with staff. Self pressure could be alleviated with a bit of meditation or a personal development workshop, or pressure caused by another person can be dealt with in an appropriate way if necessary. Stress felt due to sources external to the workplace can also be addressed or helped once it has been identified. Psychological stress, no matter what the source, can have detrimental effects on the physical health of an individual and impact their quality of life and work. Engage with staff to discover the reason for their stress.

  1. Yes we have lots of programmes, but no one in involved

Many organisations have a selection of programmes and activities which they have available to their staff, yet uptake is poor. The staff showed interest in these specific types of interaction, however once they have been made a realisation there is suddenly no interest. Why is this?

Advertising! The best deal in the supermarket is not much good to the consumer if it is hidden away at the back of the store next to the expensive specialty artisan foods. But put it beside the milk or bread, and now you’re talking. Same applies to promoting any workplace initiatives. Hang a poster in the staff canteen, in the break room, in the bathrooms. Spread by word of mouth, email, set up a facebook page. It takes little energy to get the word out, and maybe this is why the process is underlooked and undervalued.

Ensure that your scheduling, accessibility and facilities also match demand. Make adjustments to the original plan if necessary. Some communication with staff prior to finalising details will definitely aid the success of any programmes you plan to run.

  1. Health and wellness should be a core structure, not an add on

At an event such as this, it is clear that the majority if not all attendees are in agreement with the above statement. Health and wellness should be part of the core business plan in an organisation. Absenteeism and presenteeism cost the economy billions worldwide each year. By improving the health of your workforce, you can reduce incidences of each of these and create a stronger, more resilient workforce. Health and wellbeing of staff is not only a “feel good” extra, it’s a business strategy.

A survey of almost 1000 employees done by Ibec reported that seven in ten (69%) employees are more likely to stay longer with employers who show an interest in their health and wellbeing while half would consider leaving employers who don’t. Over 4 million days are lost in Ireland due to absenteeism by small businesses alone. By integrating health and wellness into organisational ethos, these numbers can all be reduced.

  1. Trendy 2 B negative

Chief Superintendent Glenn Tunstall from the Kingston Metropolitan Police illustrated well the culture in which we work, and how sometimes it appears to be fashionable to continuously criticize those of higher status and their actions. Getting staff onside can at times be difficult, and it is up to you to demonstrate your loyalty to them to get them invested in becoming interactive with you. An approach used in this scenario was working with the lower ranking staff in a bottom-up method. The “You said it, we did it” board which they display is a reinforcer of how the PCs’ requests were not only listened to, but also acted upon. Their rise in positive engagement with the force has made the Kingston borough not only a more positive workplace, but a stronger public resource.

Furthermore, their positive engagement with civilians through the use of social media has created a more positive view of the police force locally. Humourous uploads and communications associate the force with being a more down to earth and approachable group, rather than simply an untrustworthy group of law enforcers. Similarly, as it is “trendy to be negative” within the police force, it is also fashionable to criticise them. The image below is the “dancing policeman”, which was a viral hit on Youtube. You can watch them in action here and bring a smile to your face!

Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 11.35.09.pngT2BN

  1. Online Platforms for staff engagement

Darryn Allcorn form the NHS spoke about the pros of using an online platform for staff engagement, and the challenges he faced and overcame in order to make it a success.
Online platforms can eventually be very engaging, but can be slow to start and requires some pro-activity from team running the platform. They found that the initial period was very quiet, with few interactions or postings from staff. Once a few respected staff members were nudged to begin a conversation or comment on a topic, others followed suit. It was a display of typical playground etiquette, with no one wanting to sound too eager to get going. Eventually however, with some strategy, it has proven to be very successful.

An active online platform would be ideal for advertising wellbeing programmes, gauging interest, and activating a group mentality whereby people see others joining up and subsequently take an interest. Photos of co-workers getting involved may help to make initiatives appear more approachable.

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