Think employee engagement is a nice to have? Think again

Posted on 11 Sep 2018 by Jonny Williamson

Globally, disengaged employees result in more than half a trillion dollars in lost productivity annually. Worryingly, more than a quarter (26%) of the UK workforce describe themselves as being ‘actively disengaged’.

With UK productivity steadfastly maintaining its lacklustre position, it has become starkly apparent that employee engagement (sometimes referred to as employee ’empowerment’) means more than a ‘fluffy’ strategy championed solely by HR managers.

Employee Engagement - ValuingYou Infographic

According to cultural change specialist, Fiona Anderson, “Engaged staff are those more emotionally attached, will go above and beyond the call of duty and perform their job consistently to a high level. They are more likely to be innovative and are prepared to constructively challenge the norm to add value. They own a problem and take pride in being the best they can be.”

Furthermore, research conducted by The Hay Group found that culture is the ‘second most influential factor after pay and benefits when an engineering professional decides to stay or accept a new role’.

One organisation where employee engagement has been placed at the very heart of everything it does is multinational consumer goods giant, Unilever.

Products manufactured by the British-Dutch company can be found in the kitchens, fridges, freezers and bathrooms in nine out of every 10 UK homes, and its global workforce exceeds 170,000 across more than 60 countries.

Unilever is connecting every one of its employees thanks to powerful business applications and processes that allow it to deliver superior customer experiences and foster a culture of innovation, collaboration and ever-greater employee productivity.

People power

In Unilever’s 2017 Annual Report, CEO Paul Polman noted that, ‘Ultimately, Unilever’s success will come down to its ability to attract and retain the most talented individuals and to motivate and inspire them with a mission and a purpose that speaks to the long-term aims and values of the company.’

According to Polman, a ‘remarkable’ 90% of employees’ express pride in working for Unilever, and the number of countries in which Unilever has been named ‘most desirable employer’ has risen to 44 out of 52 markets in which it recruits.

At Salesforce World Tour London 2018, global head of HR Services at Unilever, Tom Dewaele, discussed exactly how the business continues to achieve such success.

“Employee expectations are rising; it’s never been more difficult to attract, engage and retain employees,” Dewaele said. “There’s been a steep increase in the competition for talent, with potential employees now very much in the driving seat.

“They have more choice than ever about where they want to work, and a job for life is no longer the norm. As a result, it is absolutely critical that business invest in the employee experience.”

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Employee lifecycle

According to Dewaele, companies with highly engaged employees outperform their peers by almost 150% EPS [earnings per share].

“With employees having so much choice about what they want to do and where they want to do it, businesses need to create a vastly superior experience across their entire employee lifecycle,” he continued.

This lifecycle encompasses recruitment, on-boarding, creating employee communities, individual learning & development journeys, performance management, and communications.

“The lifecycle starts with recruitment and using the best capabilities to attract the right talent to your organisation by leveraging highly personalised communications, intelligent tools and collaborative communities as individuals progress through recruitment and the on-boarding process,” Dewaele added.

Productivity tools

Almost all employees, across numerous surveys and polls, say that having efficient tools positively affects their work satisfaction. Yet, more than a quarter of the average working week is being spent managing emails and/or chasing colleagues. This disconnect is one of the leading causes of low productivity and sluggish decision-making.

“People are being raised in a world where they can push one button and have a taxi arrive at their feet or something delivered to their home. Those same people come to the office and if we’re honest, the work-experience isn’t always as easy as it is in the outside world,” explained Dewaele.

Increasingly, successful businesses are those who leverage communication and productivity-enhancing tools to eliminate the ‘noise’ of low value-add tasks and enable their teams to focus on the real work and the meaning of that work.

“Allowing people to be their best boosts sustainable growth. That’s why at Unilever, within my team, we started with a vision – ‘To make experiences at Unilever as simple and delightful as it can be’ – because if we can do that, and do it in a very human way, we make our employees feel valued.”

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“Technology is the game changer”

There is an ever-growing list of technology available today for every conceivable problem or need you may have. That breadth of choice means that companies are better able to choose when to use technology versus key moments in a customer or employee journey where a human touch is more effective.

“For employee engagement, technology represents a very real tipping-point,” Dewaele said. “It can help create capacity, and as a manager, you can decide what you are going to do with that capacity. For example, when a new member joins Unilever, I want to have somebody at the door that shakes their hand and says, ‘Hi, it’s great to have you at Unilever’.”

Unilever has been empowered with new levels of intelligence, speed and engagement to connect with its communities thanks to Salesforce’s Community Cloud. Within that platform, Unilever has created an ‘employee universe’ to unite its global workforce across hundreds of brands and functions from marketing and finance, to supply chain management and facilities.

Teams around the world regularly collaborate in ‘web jams’, virtual innovation sessions where participants collaborate on strategy development, competitive intelligence and campaign plans.

Say ‘Hi’ to Una

Unilever’s vision for employee engagement is built around three pillars: human experiences, simple interactions, meaningful impact. To make that vision a reality, within its employee universe Unilever has introduced a sophisticated AI-chatbot named ‘Una’, supported via Skype for Business.

Far from being a mere gimmick, Una goes beyond simply conveying information to actually completing tasks on your behalf. For example, say you want to integrate or interrogate data in a core system, but the data in question is held within a different system. Una will go into that system, find the information required and return it via a chat conversation.

“Una is the single digital way in for employees to find their way,” said Dewaele. “Una becomes an invaluable personal assistant, guiding the employee to what they need in any given moment in real-time. Her conversations are contextually relevant and, importantly, continuously improve through an integrated learning loop.”