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In our first episode, Business Psychologist and our lead consultant, Leanne Elliott, discusses why employee engagement is fundamental to business success.
“The key to employee engagement is that these positive attitudes, feelings & thoughts, translate actual positive behaviours within the workplace.
There’s so much research out there, that shows that high employee engagement is not only linked to greater individual outcomes, such as well being individual performance, satisfaction, purpose, and meaning, but also business outcomes, reduced turnover, improved profitability, increased customer satisfaction, improved innovation, creativity and growth, it is something that is fundamental in growing your business.
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⚠️ NOTE: This is an automated transcript, so it might not always be 100% accurate!
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Leanne Elliott 0:00
I can’t stress enough that if you have no intention of listening to your employees and using their feedback, applying their feedback, you’re better doing nothing at all.
Al Elliott 0:11
Hello, and welcome to Episode One, of the truth, lies and workplace culture podcast. Now, this is a podcast for business owners who want to build high performing teams that genuinely care about the business that you’ve built. So if that’s your bag, then you’re in the right place. So let’s do some introductions. I’m Al.
Leanne Elliott 0:11
Al Elliott 0:11
And we co founded a consultancy called Oblong, which is well what does Oblong do Leanne?
Leanne Elliott 0:11
Well, Oblong is really founded on exactly what you mentioned at the beginning there about what this podcast is about is, it’s built on a belief that the crucial route to business growth and success is to create teams that care as much about the business as you do. So we’ve created a culture roadmap to help owner-leader businesses achieve just that. It’s fairly simple. People think that thing these things are rocket science. And it’s not really, but don’t tell them because I wouldn’t have a job. But really, it comes down to great recruitment. Finding the right people, great engagement, keeping the right people, and great management, empowering the right people.
Al Elliott 1:22
Simple enough. Now, you’ll probably notice, we’re gonna give you a little bit of format of this podcast that Leanne is definitely the expert. She’s got 14 years in the field. She’s got masters, she’s got, she’s got letters after a name that I don’t even know what they mean. But they just make her sound very, very fancy. So the format of this podcast is going to be that I will be asking her questions, and she’ll be basically giving really good replies. But also, I’m making sure coming from a background of sales and marketing, and managing and owning a few businesses myself, I’m going to be pushing her to translate that into actual actionable items and things that the rest of us who haven’t spent 20 years in the field can understand. Does that sound fair?
Leanne Elliott 2:05
Yes, it does. As a business psychologist, I’m sure any any technical person out there that has a real passion can fall down a rabbit hole of explaining things that really don’t matter. It’s the nuts and bolts, it’s the behind the scenes, things you don’t need to know. It’s like when Al starts going on about coding and all that stuff. I’m like yeh, sure, but does it look pretty? So yes, I’m here to give you the science and Al’s here to keep me on track in translating that to things that are commercially relevant for your business.
Al Elliott 2:33
Cool. Okay, so there’s lots more things I’d like to say we might leave those to the end, because I think the most important thing we need to do is address the question that we’ve got in the title, which is, what is employee engagement? So Leanne, can you give us an idea of what employee engagement is?
Leanne Elliott 2:52
I can. So employee engagement. I’m not, I’m not entirely sure. Maybe you can help with this. How kind of well known a term is in the general business world? In my world it’s a thing. It’s a big thing. But in the business world, I don’t know. But the basic principle is that employee engagement, or to be an employee who is engaged, means that you have positive attitudes, thoughts and feelings about both your work and the organisation in which you do it. Now, the key is that it’s not just about employee satisfaction. The key to employee engagement is that these positive attitudes, feelings, thoughts, translate into positive behaviours within the workplace. And it’s these positive behaviours that have a direct impact on business performance. There is so much research out there. And I think one of the things that really bugs me, and I’ll be honest, if you ever say this to me, you’ll see my face change, is when people say these types of things are fluffy, or nice to have. Being honest, that’s just ignorant, because there is so much research out there, that shows that high employee engagement is not only linked to greater individual outcomes, such as well being, individual performance, satisfaction, purpose, meaning, but also business outcomes, reduced turnover, improved profitability, increased customer satisfaction, improved innovation, creativity and growth, it is something that is fundamental in growing your business.
Al Elliott 4:29
So I think, from what I’m understanding from what you’re saying there, and of course, this this is a little bit contrived, in that I do understand it, but for the listeners point of view, then what we’re saying is it’s not just as you say, a nice to have or a darn’t use the F word that makes you angry, that’s fluffy, by the way, not the other F word. But what we’re saying is that an disengaged employee is A) more likely to leave, B) more likely to do bad work and C) potentially corrupt the other part of people in the workforce or the team with their bad, like I’m sure we’ve all had it when an employee who comes in late and doesn’t really care and just, you know, sits and reads magazines or, or, or goes on Facebook when they don’t think anyone’s looking, that’s what you would say would be disengaged.
Leanne Elliott 5:12
Yes, I think somebody who is, and I think that’s an interesting thing you brought up as well, that we have engaged employees, we have disengaged employees, and then we have actively disengaged employees. So those disengaged players might be the people that, you know, spend a bit more time on Amazon or ASOS during their the extra 10 minutes after their lunch break, or, you know, spend a bit too much time making some coffee, or just do the bare minimum of their job to get by, which is, which is fine, you know, they’re just doing the bare minimum. But the difficulty is, those people are gonna feel frustrated, disillusioned, bored, you know, they’re, they’re languishing, they’re not, they’re not happy, and they’re not fulfilled. So the danger is that those people are going to become actively disengaged, those people who are actively disengaged are disruptive forces. So when I guess I hear business leaders talk a bit more about having a toxic culture. And really, that’s a result of employees being disengaged, because they are proactively working to hinder the progress and outcomes of the business. The interesting thing about employee engagement as well, is that the statistics are quite shocking. So it’s estimated that the vast majority of employees are either disengaged or proactively disengaged, talking kind of only about 20 to 30% at best of an organisation is engaged. One of the analogies that we like to use a lot at Oblong HQ to kind of explain the the real danger of not just the people who are actively disengaged, but those people who are in the middle is imagine a rowing boat with with 10 rowers in it, you’ve got two people that are really engaged and pulling as hard as they can to push that boat forward. Then you’ve got two, two rowners on the other side of the boat, who are actively disengaged, and they’re rowing as hard as they can in the other direction, just to just to make sure the business or the boat doesn’t go forward. So that’s four people rowing in opposite directions, but then you’ve still got the six people in the middle. They’re not rowing at all. They’re making zero effort to hinder the progress the boat, but they’re also making no effort to push it forward. Those are the people that are disengaged. And those are the people that if you can reach as a business leader, and create the environment that’s needed to engage them, that’s what’s going to propel your business forward.
Al Elliott 7:45
Okay, well, this this, I mean, I do really like that analogy. You know, we used it in other stuff, that analogy of the boat, we’ve even got an image somewhere, I think, that we might try and pop up in the show notes. So let’s just take an example. Let’s go proper, concrete example. So I am a, let’s pretend I own a design agency. And I’ve got 25 employees. And then there’s me and maybe two or three others who are management, leaders, et cetera, et cetera, which is probably, probably the similar to most of the people listening to this right now, you’re not sure when we’re not necessarily talking to people, you know, the IBM, who’ve got 250,000 people across the world, we’re talking to you, the person who owns a business. So I own a business, I’ve got 25 employees, and what you’re seeing there, in fact, let’s do it 30, because then the maths works out. So what you’re saying there is that at any point in time, let’s say four or five, are massively engaged and are pulling the business forward. So they might be doing like going the extra mile for client work, they might be thinking about stuff at home, in their own time, because they’re happy to do so. They might be creating new processes or improving existing processes, then what you’re saying is the four or five people who are actively disengaged, and they’re going to be, well, what are they doing?
Leanne Elliott 8:58
So they’re not going to follow the new processes, they’re gonna be very vocal, negatively when things change, they might be taking an approach with clients that is destructive and detrimental. It’s likely that and, you know, these are things that are intentional as likely as well that the, you know, because they are distant, disengaged, they’re not. They don’t care. They’ve they’ve, they just have lost all all care. So their attention to detail is going to be reduced. And I think as well, they, the danger there is you’ve got people who are working really hard and really engaged and believe what the business trying to do. You got people who are just completely disillusioned and causing, they’re the people that cause the fires, you know, you know, there’s times where you wake up and you you see that notification on your phone from that person. You’re like, Oh, God, here we go again, because they’re, you know, that that, yes, they’re unsatisfied that disengaged. And I guess the danger is that you’ve got these people that are working, giving their, going the extra mile, working really hard, that the risk as a business owner is that you over rely on those people, because they’re the people that make your life easier. But they’re the people you’re gonna give more to and more responsibility and ask more of, and they’re the people that burn out.
Al Elliott 10:24
So I’m going to ask you to second about what are the main signs that you’ve got people who are engaged or disengaged in your in your business. But what’s the advantage of going after those people in the middle of the boat? So we’ve talked about them actively disengaged, we’ve talked about the actively engaged, what’s the advantage of going for them, I mean, why not just leave it as it is.
Leanne Elliott 10:45
The danger of leaving it as it is, is like any business problem, if you’ve got revenue leakage, and you’re not sure where it’s going, if you leave it as it is, that revenue is going to continue to decline, you can’t afford to leave it as it is, you have to do something about it. So there’s a few different ways that you know, if you’re looking at saving money within your business, there’s a few different ways you can look at it, but it’s going to the people or the the areas of least resistance, getting those quick wins. And that boost is really going to have an impact on the morale, of the culture within your organisation, but also on your your capacity and your influence as a leader. Yes, it’s brilliant to try and go after those people that are actively disengaged and try and bring them around. But the fact is, you’ve got the majority people sat there who who aren’t aren’t actively disengaged, yeah, they’re not actively working against you or the business so, you know, target those people first, and hopefully start to see some of those improvements come through. And that in turn might start to, you know, change the thoughts, attitudes of people who are actively disengaged.
Al Elliott 11:48
Okay. So, can, if I was asking you, from all your experience of doing all this, what do you think? What are the signs of disengagement? So I mean, I’m sure you’ve seen hundreds of businesses, and you can go in there and from me as this fictional business agency owner, then what am I looking out for? That might tell me that I’ve got a disengaged workforce?
Leanne Elliott 12:13
I mean, I think there’s a there’s a number of very clear performance indicators. First of all, from a business perspective, the first and most obvious one perhaps is going to be high turnover rates. If you’ve got lots of people leaving your business, then that is a sign that you’ve, there is an issue with engagement. And I think that’s what’s interesting about the kind of the whole media hype about the great resignation, following the pandemic, and how it’s completely fundamentally changed what, how people think about work. And it’s not, it’s not, people thought that way about work for a long time. It’s just now a case that they’ve been given alternative reality. So they’re going to the organisations that can provide them with that on a on a longer term basis. So yes, you have a high turnover rate, that’s a clear sign. Other clear signs are going to be high absenteeism, although that’s probably more closely related to burnout or stress. So people who are ill from work for long periods of time, it can be more indicative of stress. But as I mentioned before, if we’re putting extra responsibilities and workload expectations on those few people that are engaged, that leads to burnout. So the issue is the same as there’s an issue with engagement. Other things could be stagnant growth. As I mentioned, employee engagement is predictive of organisational growth. It’s also predictive of creativity and innovation. So if you’re struggling to get any kind of real accountability and ideas, and you bold ideas are gonna push the business forward, that could be a sign that there is an issue with employee engagement. And I think as well, if you have, if you struggle with your management team, if you’re a senior leader, or business owner, and you don’t feel you have the managers around you to kind of prevent problems, spot risks, basically be that, that buffer for you, then I think that could be a sign of, of potential engagement issues as well.
Al Elliott 14:12
So using the analogy in my world of sales and marketing, then we often talk about this leaky bucket where if you’re going out there in advertising and getting new clients in, but you can’t, you can’t convert them or it’s not quite you’ve not got the processes or even the staff aren’t converting the employees, the salespeople aren’t converting these people properly, you’ve got this leaky bucket. So doesn’t matter how much you fill it up is always going to flow out now what it sounds like, is that what you’re saying there is with with your teams and employees, unless you’ve got everyone or as many people as possible engaged. People aren’t planning on leaving, then just by adding more people to the team, you’re going to sort of maybe add more petrol to the fire or gasoline if you’re from the US. You’re adding more fuel to the fire, which is going to mean that people are going to maybe leave quicker. I mean, is that. So, what do you think about that? Is that reasonable?
Leanne Elliott 15:02
Yeah, absolutely. Because I think the interesting thing about particularly smaller businesses is that even just, you know, two or three new hires can fundamentally change the dynamic of the business, if you’ve only got 20 people in your organisation, you’re adding like another 10% to your team, that’s significant. If you compare that somewhere like, Facebook, that’s like adding 8,000 people to the organisation, you know, it’s a lot. And that change and disruption, in itself can threaten employee engagement. So if people aren’t, aren’t engaged, it’s not going to help. The issue you have as well with the kind of adding to that leaky bucket, as you say, is if you don’t have your, for better explpa-, for kind of way of saying it shit together, when it comes to people and culture, what you’re telling your your candidates that are coming in, you know, the great talent you want to bring into your organisation about what your organisation looks like, and, and how it’s like to work there. And, and they come in and are completely disillusioned, because what they see isn’t what you’ve described, then they will they’re disengaged, before they’ve even finished their onboarding process. So yeah, if you don’t get these things, right, or at least start to implement things that will, you’re wasting money in terms of, well, everything, recruitment, training, yeah, it’s just, it’s just not sustainable. And it’s not scalable.
So the target listener is someone who’s got a service business, which is reliant on employee and employee output. So if we think about that, and you let’s say that someone’s got 30-40 employees, at this point in time they recognise some of the things you’ve been talking about there. What tools can they use to measure the employee engagement?
So I think the interesting thing about employee engagement, Ii think it’s interesting, the interesting thing around engagement is that it provides us with a predictable model of employee behaviour. So by that what I mean is that the most influential employee engagement models out there from a psychology perspective, are engagement models, that what you put in as a business owner, what you can have direct influence over is going to impact employee attitudes, thoughts, feelings. And then in turn, it’s going to impact on employee behaviours. And then in turn organisational performance.
Al Elliott 17:29
What do you recommend? Someone says, shit, I need to know how engaged my employees are? What do they do? What tools do they use to find that out?
Leanne Elliott 17:36
So the best, the best way of finding that out is to run a really comprehensive employee engagement audit. And that will include looking at the current structures, policies, within your organisation, then actually running a survey that’s going to measure not only the drive was engaged within the organisation, but how it’s currently impacting on employees, attitudes, and behaviours. And then we can also connect that to performance as well. And then developing some kind of action plan or roadmap that you’re going to commit to to make things better. I can’t stress enough that if you have no intention of listening to your employees, and using their feedback, applying their feedback, you’re better doing nothing at all. Because you’re just gonna, you’re just going to make the disengagement worse if you do that. In terms of tools out there, as you say, we offer a tool like that. And there’s lots of consultancies out there that will as well, Real World Group, Robertson Cooper to name a couple. But there are also some really great free tools out there, if you just want to do a quick health check. The one that I think is kind of empirically the most sound and that’s free, is the HSE management standard survey, which is free available on their website, it’s about 30 questions, it comes with an analysis tool as well. So your gonna be able to kind of see the areas there. I think it’s just important, as I said, to make sure that having the data is great, but it’s also making sure that you have the expertise either within your organisation or external to it, that’s going to help you translate that into into actions and plans that are going to have an impact.
Al Elliott 19:10
Yeah. And I think that it’s, again, as a sales as a sales and marketing guy for Oblong, I think it’s really important that that we stress that that it’s that yes, we have our own survey, but it’s not about the surveys, it’sabout the results. You can do this on Google Forms. You can do this on Survey Monkey or something if you really want to, and even though they probably shouldn’t.
Leanne Elliott 19:34
Yeah, yeah, I’m uncomfortable suggesting that simply because it’s the reason that business psychology, occupational psychology exists as a profession is that so much work is done into making sure we’re measuring what we’re actually going out to measure. And a lot of the engagement surveys out there or will brand themselves engagement surveys. I’m gonna name this more because it’s, I come across clients using it more is something like Office Vibe. Is that Office Vibe is actually more measuring employee satisfaction. And that is an attitude of employee engagement. It’s an outcome. So it’s making sure you’re measuring exactly what you want to measure. So I would, if you’re, if you’re not in a position to hire consultant, I would look at something like the HSE, or even the Gallup 12. That’s fairly cost effective, it’s about 20 pounds per person. And empirically, scientifically, it’s going to give you reliable data that you can apply within your business.
Al Elliott 20:29
Okay, so I think hopefully, by now that not only do you have an idea of what employee engagement is, but you’ll have an idea of why you should care, B) what examples or what the real life looks like when someone is engaged or disengaged. Remember that boat where you’ve got four at the front rowing, rowing their little backsides off, four at the back rowing in the opposite direction, and the rest of them in the middle, just bumbling around
Leanne Elliott 20:55
Reading a book, watching the flowers grow.
Al Elliott 20:58
So we know that and also, Leanne’s given us a couple of really good tools that you can use. There are obviously, we have our own, which is a bit more in depth. And I think the difference is that it’s, you can use one of those tools, but unless you really know what you’re looking at, then you can actually potentially do more harm than good. I think that that probably sums it up. Is there anything else you want to add to the end of this?
Leanne Elliott 21:22
The only thing that I would add is information is always power. And that’s the great thing about having insights about your business. You know, you wouldn’t create a finance strategy without checking your bank account and consulting your finance manager. So why create a people and culture strategy without gathering some data and checking in with a professional. In terms of resources, as I said, there’s some great, great ones out there. And I’m sure we’ll link them in the description. But if you’re just generally interested in engagement, what it all means, then I couldn’t recommend, Engage for Success. more highly. This is based on the McLloyd report from 2009.
Al Elliott 21:59
Is that a book? Or is that a tool?
Leanne Elliott 22:01
It’s a website. And it’s a really great website, it’s got a blog, you can also download the full 200 page report should you wish. It also has lots of different resources on there as well. Some surveys that you can use, some tips for management, loads of things on there. So yeah, practical tools, and also just some really good information.
Al Elliott 22:21
Cool. Okay. So if you’re listening to this, and you fancy 25 minutes chatting to a business psychologist, then drop us an email. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. And we’ll pick someone out of the bag and give them 25 minutes free. Leanne’s lookint at me because you didn’t I was gonna do this.
Leanne Elliott 22:39
I’ve not been consulted on th time. But yes. No, of course, I would love to
Al Elliott 22:44
And if you have any comments or thoughts, just email email@example.com. If you’re interested in employee engagement, in resilience, in building great teams, and anything we’ve talked about here, it’s all covered at oblonghq.com, which is our website. And there’s a contact form there. You can get in touch with us. Is there anything else to cover? Have we covered it? Have we done it?
Leanne Elliott 23:04
I think we’ve done it. Episode one.
Al Elliott 23:07
Cool. All right. We’ll see you next time then. Bye.
Leanne Elliott 23:11
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