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22 April 2018
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Analysis: Rules of engagement

office getty
Credit: Getty

25 January 2016 | Herpreet Grewal


A report published this month by real estate group JLL suggests that, despite advances in office design and workplace strategies, a focus on short-term cost efficiency has led to the undervaluing of workforces and has sparked off increased worker disengagement. 

It cites recent surveys indicating that between 70 to 80 per cent of employees are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at work. 

It’s not new to read about how disengagement in the workplace can create “toxic environments”, but what are companies doing to tackle it? JLL’s report authors suggest its figures present yet another opportunity for businesses to use the workplace “as a tool to generate the positive company culture needed to reconnect and engage employees”. 

Even if a firm’s culture is the key to improving worker engagement, JLL’s report says: “Culture is intangible, hard to measure actively, yet easy to sense when you walk into an office space.”

Research has shown how companies actively developing their culture return significantly boosted revenues and profits.

Last year, Monica Parker of workplace strategy firm Hatch spoke at events including ThinkFM to warn FM suppliers, consultants, architects and designers alike that it was now in an FM’s job spec to keep workers happy and in so doing to maintain and disseminate their organisation’s culture. 

The topic of collaboration in the workplace had, she said, been over-emphasised. In fact, businesses should focus on cause (the reasons for disengaged workers), control (realising that giving workers more autonomy increases their productivity), contemplation (stimulating ideas) and community (a sense of connectedness among employees). All this sought-after collaboration is the natural product of all of the above.

Parker said the work of FMs would be helped if businesses looked at “return on engagement” as well as the “return on investment” to make their workplaces better environments and keep more staff. 

In professions such as hospitality, the challenges of employee engagement are no easier. Caterer Bennett Hay was named one of the best places to work in a poll by The Caterer magazine. The organisation states that “people engagement is critical for the hospitality industry, which has traditionally had a high staff turnover rate”.

In 2015, an average turnover rate of 20 per cent cost the industry approximately £274 million, according to workforce development charity People 1st. In comparison, Bennett Hay’s turnover rate is just 5 per cent.

Co-owner Robin Hay told FM World: “Employee engagement is about much more than just paying a decent salary. In recent years, the best workplaces have woken up to this fact and have begun to emphasise work-life balance, career and personal development, good communications and training, shared values, inspirational leadership, and more.”

Bennett Hay offers colleagues “a range of benefits” and rewards, which leads to “an exemplary work ethic and promotes a positive culture”, said Hay.

“Our main aim is to not only attract, but to retain the best people – and we have successfully achieved this, as per our turnover rate, which is one of the lowest in the industry. A happy workforce is a productive workforce, and people are more engaged when they are involved in driving the business forward. We encourage our colleagues to share their ideas because, to us, every voice counts. In my experience, people value having the freedom to express themselves and to respond fluidly and innovatively to situations.”

A flexible approach

The idea of flexible working will evolve further and become more mainstream, according to a report by global real estate company CBRE.

Its 2015/2016 Occupier Survey covers 120 companies. More than 80 per cent of those surveyed are headquartered in either Europe or North America, with a similar percentage of respondents having either a global or Europe-wide CRE remit. Its findings suggest the flexible working agenda is “dynamic” with time spent in the office viewed by many as a “reward”, which therefore needs to be “a high-quality experience wherever it happens to be”.

JLL’s report concludes: “It’s not about a lack of direction or hands-off management; it’s about creating a responsive working environment that enables employees to produce meaningful work.”

The proof is in enacting these ideas in the office environment and policies.