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Loosen the purse strings this Christmas

In straitened times it is understandable that many business owners and managers set aside engagement activities and choose, instead, to focus solely on reducing organisational pressures. For many, this might mean impersonating Ebeneezer Scrooge and taking drastic measures, such as cancelling the office Christmas lunch or party. Humbug.

Without getting all Keynsian, this is precisely what not to do. When staff are feeling antsy, they will be at their most critical, scrutinising and judgemental of leadership. Depriving them of their annual jolly is a good way to precipitate a simmering resentment over the Christmas period, ensuring the majority of staff return in the New Year with a resolution to find a new job.
There is lots of research highlighting the positive correlation between engaged employees and increased performance; companies with a less engaged workforce experience higher staff turnover, greater absence levels, more internal disruption and less discretionary effort, all of which inevitably impacts on the bottom line.

The key is to create an environment where employees genuinely feel engaged and involved, where there is a sense of collective responsibility and employees believe they have a degree of control over their destiny.

Peter Twemlow, MD of HR consultancy, Independent, gives suggestions on how companies can achieve this.

-Effective communication should be comprehensive, credible and two-way. There needs to be an ability to act on employee input and where a commitment is given, follow it through. If suggestions are not in the company’s best interest, this needs to be explained clearly. Share as much financial information as possible – by being upfront and open from the start, you will build trust and confidence.

-Managers affect employee engagement and disengaged leaders can cause huge amounts of damage. There has to be a unified approach, starting from the top. Even if employees don’t like the information given to them, they will be watching how the owners and managers behave and judge the company accordingly.

-Managers need to be visible, adopting an open door policy. They should walk round the office, talk to people, acknowledging any concerns, answering questions and investing time in their staff. Businesses invariably go through cycles and a manager’s role is to be optimistic that, despite challenges, with everyone’s support, there’s no reason why the company will not return to success.

-Setting up problem-solving groups is a way to energise and motivate staff; they can make people feel confident that they are contributing positively, being tasked with growing existing business, acquiring new clients, or cutting costs.
Questionnaires and focus groups are two ways of drilling down into the issues affecting company employees. When employees think their concerns and recommendations are taken seriously, it strengthens the employment relationship and the fabric of the organisation as a whole. By measuring specific drivers, such as communication, trust in leadership, recognition and reward, you will expose the root causes of any problem areas. Survey results can be used to devise an action plan, with specific aims attached to particular individuals. Regular updates need to be communicated company-wide to highlight progress on specific issues and fuel the engagement process further.

-Recognition and reward are key elements of good leadership, and its value to employees increases in difficult times. Individuals and teams who have performed well should be recognised and rewarded, maybe with small bonuses, a bottle of wine or gift vouchers. This is why a Christmas party can be important; showing employees they are all in it together and ending the year on positive note.

In essence, whether a company has an engaged, motivated workforce, is not dependent on economic circumstance. Even in the most challenging of times, managers who are honest with their staff, are committed to credible communication, transparency of action and regular feedback, will build trust, confidence and loyalty. Not all management decisions will be to everyone’s liking, but there will be fairness, fewer surprises and a greater understanding of the decision-making process.

So, be transparent and honest with your staff and remember that splashing out on Christmas is even more important in the current climate; you really don’t want your staff breaking up for Christmas calling you Scrooge.

Nigel Phillips

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