Top tips from the most engaged workplaces

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It’s a high level concept with bottom line consequences, so how are some of Canada’s most engaged workplaces making it work. HRM talked to some of the finalists about why and how they focus on engagement.


“An astute organization knows its best asset is its people, and that’s where you should be investing,” Moses Bar-Yoseph, KPMG’s executive director of talent attraction, said.

It sounds like an HR dream: high retention, increased longevity, higher productivity – even lower absentee rates have been tied to engagement. All the most engaged companies have seen turnover drop and productivity increase as their engagement scores improved.

And many of the companies also found that the engaged attitude was contagious – it spread not only to colleagues but also to clients and other stakeholders.

“If our staff are excited and motivated and thinking about possibilities, then they’re going to help our customers to be excited and motivated and thinking about possibilities,” Sheila Bouman, Peer 1’s chief people and performance officer, said.


The first step  towards an engaged workplace is measurement – but how do you measure something as high-level and intangible as engagement? While you can’t ask “Are you engaged?”,  you can look at correlating areas such as job satisfaction and staff turnover and retention.

All of the companies HRM spoke to took part in regular workplace surveys, whether it was through monthly online feedback, annual Gallup polls or bi-annual global questionnaires.

“Our approach involves identifying our best opportunities to impact employee engagement through surveys and other listening posts,” Adam Reeve, Ceridian’s Director of HR client partnership, said. “Once we listen to our employees we look to put actions in place that leverage the opportunities that we have uncovered.”

Once crucial measurement information has been obtained, it is necessary  to figure out how to apply it. For example, Ceridian changed its dress code, introduced wellness programs and improved benefits based on survey results. Every company had different approaches in the way they addressed different areas, but there were some common themes - including having a “top-down” approach, and incorporating community social responsibility.

“Communication is very important – ensuring your employees are in the know all the time,” Janette Batten, 3M’s director of human resources, said. 3M has regular meetings between staff and the managing director to address different topics and concerns. It has recently started work on a new building and is using a website to share progress and ensure regular communication  reduces any apprehension around the build.

“Change is the hardest part of any process. Building the extension is the easy part – getting people to embrace the change is the hard part. We’re trying to reduce the fear of the unknown and we’re seeing people getting excited,” she added.

Making use of an open concept environment, which includes the executive team, helps everyone feel encouraged to voice their ideas or opinions, Bruce Warren, Emphatica’s vice-president of marketing, said.  Emphatica also has programs to help employees based in different locations get to know each other.

“We also understand that communication is key and provide employees with weekly personnel updates, send out monthly newsletters and hold quarterly ’town hall’ meetings to discuss company performance,”  he added.

Recognition is a huge part of engagement, and KPMG has revolutionized how they do it by implementing their own system, known as Shine, which allows managers to recognize good work in real time through an online system inspired by social media.

“It’s a sophisticated approach that has helped increase the number of recognition activities without increasing the dollar impact,” Bar-Yoseph said.

Advice for HR pros to use:

Sheila Bouman from Peer 1: “I think it’s around fostering deep self-awareness in people in terms of who they are, what’s important to them and how work fits in their life. Fostering that culture of self-awareness and connection at a human level is key because then you feel like part of a family and part of a community.”

Janette Batten from 3M: “Engagement has to start at the top – we have leadership team meetings to share information so they understand what their responsibilities are as leaders. And it’s important to remember that, yes, we are a business but we also have to have some fun.”

Moses Bar-Yoseph from KPMG: “A really good starting point is finding an alignment between individual goals and the organizational goals. If a company of whatever size can have that kind of open dialogue and can get an employee to say these are my goals and they’re aligned with the organizations goals you get a sense of growing together that clearly leads to engagement.”

Adam Reeve from Ceridian: “Listen to employees; take time to ensure you understand; ask for opportunities to act, and then communicate what you have done.”

Bruce Warren from Empathica: “Don’t try to implement a flavour of the month strategy the company feels would be fun, meaning it must help engagement.  Instead, find out what the areas of dissatisfaction are in the workplace and work to make improvements there first.”




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