ERTT – Linking ER and Engagement – a Help or Hindrance?

These are the thoughts and takeaways from the latest ER Think Tank (ERTT) held on Thursday 4th October 2012 hosted by Marks and Spencer’s Anna Moore (Head of Employee Relations), titled ‘Linking ER and Engagement – a Help or Hindrance?’

The following summary has been prepared to reflect a segment of the discussion held amongst senior HR and ER professionals from leading UK and other international businesses.  Specific company details, experiences and examples have been omitted from this summary as all discussions are held under ‘Chatham House Rules’.

Engagement is a characteristic that all businesses want instilled in their workforce, namely for its obvious correlation with retention, absenteeism and productivity. However, which HR function takes direct ownership for driving engagement within the wider business? It was suggested that rather than developing specific engagement activities, perhaps the emphasis should be placed on making existing initiatives and procedures as engaging as possible.

For instance, the London Olympics was quite possibly one of the greatest vehicles to have strengthened engagement amongst employees – and in many cases it wasn’t even intentional! However, one of the biggest challenges remaining for businesses is now maintaining and developing engagement levels during a time when companies are seeing a change freeze. What will be key is to understand exactly what makes employees ‘tick’ and therefore create engagement plans around existing and future organisational initiatives. Additionally, management teams need to be clear about creating and communicating learning and development opportunities for staff to avoid both new and long standing employees feeling ‘stuck’ and as a consequence disengaged.

Organic engagement

A general theme observed from the Think Tank was that organisations should focus efforts on a more organic use of engagement by showcasing a more human side to the company. This can be achieved by encouraging management teams to get involved in the more operational side of the business to strengthen relationships with staff. Additionally, managers must be educated on effectively communicating with their staff and not be seen to be ‘sat behind screens’. This type of interaction is crucial, as whilst staffs’ identification with the employing brand is important, ultimately deeper engagement and commitment is built as a result of an employee’s relationship with their line-manager. It begs the question, is corporate engagement which isn’t fronted and embraced by line-managers a waste of time and money?

Our experts’ views:

a) Research your employees and find out when their Birthdays are. Personalising communication to send them Birthday messages is a simple way of building engagement and showing a personal side to the business.

Line-manager buy-in

Creating organic engagement is great in theory, however unless line-managers are actually engaged with the business themselves it’s fairly unlikely that their teams will be. One way to heighten engagement levels from management is to demonstrate trust. By skilling up line-managers to advise and handle some internal issues (grievances etc.) which might have historically been escalated to HR, you are granting them process control and also preventing HR Business Partners / ER professionals being unnecessarily involved.

Making this simple change demonstrates trust, educates the line-manager population and can actually improve lines of communication between managers and employees by increasing face to face engagement. Additionally, by teaching line-managers how to advise on HR related matters you can prevent internal issues from escalating higher. Our ER experts suggest that ROI can be measured by capturing grievances on a ‘near miss basis’ to highlight how beneficial the scheme is as a prevention method.

Our experts’ views:

a) Purpose developed applications can be used to showcase solutions and advise on internal issues, in order to prevent the intervention of HR. From here the most frequently accessed issues are then flagged with query teams to offer greater levels of clarity on that specific issue.

Social media channels and enabling engagement

There are various communication channels which can be utilised for contributing to the engagement of employees, however not all positively! Social media platforms are undoubtedly an incredibly powerful tool, but coupled with an angry employee choosing to vent in a forum or on a company Twitter page, colleagues’ engagement levels can be adversely affected. It’s crucial to develop a policy for using official company social media platforms and to circulate this with employees to ensure that staff know what is considered acceptable. Additionally, ensure that there is someone relevant on hand to respond to interaction, to either set the record straight or begin to rectify any reported issues. That said, encouraging employees to have an opinion on social platforms is certainly favourable as it inspires others to get involved and join conversations regarding your business.

Our experts’ views:

a) Ensure that your intranet isn’t a one-dimensional dumping ground for policies and guidelines – make it appealing, interactive and current

b) During the on-boarding process measure the expectations of new joiners and their respective line-managers at the start of their role. Six months in, revisit these expectations to see whether they have been met and work out ways to move forward as an engagement vehicle.

Creating an engagement barrier through language

Often a great deal of engagement can actually be lost through a language barrier created within policies due to them appearing completely inaccessible. A question exists around whether employees understand the legalistic tone adopted in documentation, however if a decision is made to soften the tone do you risk weakening the point? A balance needs to found regarding adopting a plain vocabulary which suits the audience intended to read such policies; this documentation then needs to be consistently communicated in terms of style, language and format. After all, the clearer the communication, the greater the buy-in, acceptance and engagement levels.

Our experts’ views:

a) When appropriate, use images and diagrams to communicate policies to make them more digestible from a staff perspective

Internal perception of ER

One of the concluding themes which emerged from the ER Think Tank was the potential disconnect that employees might have with the ER function through a preconceived perception that they are an internal policing force. There is some work which perhaps needs to be done on challenging this negative observation which might exist within some businesses. It was suggested that by removing or decreasing elements of case-work from ER professionals’ core duties, it would allow the function to concentrate on more strategic issues and thus reflect more positively on the valuable work they do.


  • Attention needs to be paid to engaging with remote staff, which is a challenging task based on weaker lines of communication with this group
  • When measuring engagement avoid survey fatigue by overloading staff with questionnaires to complete, this can actually reduce engagement
  • Capture the involvement of line managers to drive engagement to strengthen the message of corporate engagement schemes
  • Develop a united language when communicating information and policies to staff in order to remain consistent, and importantly understood
  • Encourage line-managers to capture grievances on a near miss basis to highlight less of a demand on HR’s time
  • Develop a more favourable image for the ER team to lean away from the policing label which is attributed to them in some organisations
  • Keep it simple and don’t over complicate the communication process, focus more on one-on-one engagement and don’t lose sight of the original purpose.
Oasis HR

Written by , Network Driven HR Recruitment

Oasis HR is a multi-award winning HR Recruitment Agency based in London that delivers Contingency and Search services within the Human Resource and Business Change Markets. Our client base encompasses all industry sectors and we have a proven track record of delivering permanent, interim and temporary professionals at all levels across all HR disciplines. From a £20k HR Administrator to a £200k HR Director, Oasis HR is well placed to identify, approach and secure the best available talent in the market

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