Christmas parties are important for staff engagement

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In the wake of a report commissioned by the Government blaming the UK’s business leaders for low levels of staff engagement, employers within the education sector are being warned not to use the recession as an excuse for failing to acknowledge the efforts of their employees over the festive period. 

The warning comes as new figures released by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) show that two thirds (65 per cent) of managers working in education believe that Christmas parties are important in helping to improve employee engagement.

The survey, of 188 managers in the sector, found that a similar number (64 per cent) claimed that the office Christmas party is vital to recognise the hard work of staff undertaken throughout the year.  Almost three quarters (74 per cent) also believe end of year celebrations should continue in spite of the recession.  

Interestingly, the findings also show that managers in the education sector recognise the need for responsible reward and celebration.  Asked about public perceptions, 56 per cent agreed that an expensive party could damage their organisation’s reputation.  The research also discovered that almost half (48 per cent) believe that a ‘team lunch is better than an organisation wide party’.

Commenting on the findings, Ruth Spellman, CMI chief executive, says: “There are too many examples showing that the poor quality of management and leadership in the UK lies at the heart of the disengaged workforce.  Our research shows that end of year festivities are clearly still of great importance to the workforce in education but the survey raises an interesting dilemma for UK organisations.  How can employers say ‘thank you’ without incurring the wrath of the wider public?  The answer is that employee engagement has never been as important as it is now, but it must come hand-in-hand with a tighter grip around the purse strings.”

The results show that employers in the sector are being cautious about the amount being spent on end of year celebrations.  45 per cent indicate they are happy for time to be taken for a Christmas party, but will make no financial contribution. 34 per cent have agreed to pay up to £40 per head.

With 79 per cent  of managers in education arguing that a warm approach to Christmas ‘is good for staff morale’ it is clear, from the survey, that organisations will be going some way to improve the reported 42 per cent decline in employee engagement caused by the recession – a figure highlighted in CMI’s Economic Outlook Report, published in Autumn 2009. 

Ruth Spellman said: “The benefits to organisations of employee engagement cannot be understated.  A truly engaged organisation can expect to experience high levels of staff loyalty, retention, productivity, innovation and profitability as well as low levels of absenteeism.  Given the current economic climate these cannot be ignored as they are the stepping stones towards the future, long-term success of the education sector.”

Meanwhile, a separate survey from the Department for Business Innovation and Skills suggest many employers in the education sector are not unleashing the full potential of their people and are therefore undermining their own productivity and performance.

It suggests many employers in the sector should focus more time and effort on explaining business goals for 2010 so employees in all areas are informed, enthused and prepared to play the part expected of them.

David MacLeod, adviser to BIS and co-author of the recent report to Government 'Engaging for Success' said: "This is just one example of how poor employee engagement can put the brakes on improved business performance. If leaders in the education sector don't explain where the business is going and what it's seeking to achieve, how can the sector's employees be motivated or know what they're meant to contribute? Clear goals are a key ingredient for achieving performance and productivity - but worryingly this research suggests many employers in the sector haven't yet grasped this for 2010."

David MacLeod has five 'top tips' to help employers take rapid action on the issues identified in this research:

  • Define a clear and single goal
    • Don't present employees with a shopping list of proposed aims and activities: this only confuses and disorientates employees. Craft a single goal or theme to help you build common understanding amongst your people and create a foundation for more detailed communication and engagement to follow.
  • Tailor supporting messages to audiences
    • Talk to each audience on their own terms, use communication channels and mechanisms familiar to them, use language they are used to. For example, you might need different things from production staff and sales teams.
  • Invite ideas and input
    • Many 'kick off' meetings or strategy presentations simply download plans, rather than seeking input on how to deliver them in practice. That's a missed opportunity to inspire greater involvement, commitment and ideas from employees. When communicating with your people, make sure you ask for feedback, help them understand that you're open to suggestions on turning principles into practice.
  • Be flexible
    • Plans change and evolve as circumstances demand. Be open about this and keep people updated throughout the year, using team meetings or quarterly update sessions on business progress. These are opportunities for discussion and suggestions on how the team can collectively address emerging issues and opportunities.
  • Celebrate success
    • Too many organisations don't celebrate the progress they make. Use team meetings, notice/bulletin boards and more formal channels (if you have them) to show how employee actions have helped progress towards common goals.
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