Sparking Employee Engagement

Listen and provide for your staff and they'll stay loyal. One of the toughest tasks during a recession is keeping employees engaged. Broader economic forces boost stress levels, undermining productivity and fomenting discontent that can send employees scouting greener pastures.


Listen and provide for your staff and they’ll stay loyal.

One of the toughest tasks during a recession is keeping employees engaged. Broader economic forces boost stress levels, undermining productivity and fomenting discontent that can send employees scouting greener pastures.

Employee engagement “has definitely declined in the past two years,” says Ian Cook, director of research and learning for the BC Human Resources Management Association. He cites national studies that he believes point to similar trends in employee engagement in B.C., “but not across the board.”

In sync with employees

Helen Schneiderman, principal consultant at Engage Consulting Solutions in Vancouver, says the degree of engagement present in a workforce depends on how employers treat employees and on individual employees’ feelings about the jobs they have. When both sides are in sync, the workplace as a whole benefits.

During a recession, that’s hardly ever the case, even for the best workplaces. “Last year engagement levels had dropped a bit,” says Schneiderman, who helps administer each year’s Best Companies survey. “That could be because things were so uncertain from an economic perspective and organizations were maybe not doing a good enough job communicating to their workforces how their organization was doing, how it was impacting them.”

She noticed an improvement in the documentation companies provided this year, with a marked improvement in the engagement of employees over 2009. The shift reflects a mix of rational and emotional factors.

On the rational side, Schnei­derman says, are considerations such as workplace conditions – the ability to accomplish work and to do so in a safe manner – as well as job security and salary. “It’s not, I come in every day and my computer crashes,” she says; employers have to fulfill a promise to give employees the tools they need. “When that level of commitment is there, individuals are more likely to stay with the organization because they can do their job.”

The other side of the equation is the emotional commitment staff bring to the position, which Schneiderman says is reflected in the accomplishment employees feel in doing their work or management’s trust in them even when something goes wrong.

Exercising trust at Summerland & District Credit Union

This is the case at Summerland & District Credit Union, where human resources and marketing manager Herlinda Mills says quite candidly, “We trust our staff to know what they’re doing.”
The trust is implicit in the leeway staff have to take time to attend to family concerns, for example, or other personal matters that infringe on work time.

“We don’t say, Oh no, you can’t go because you’re supposed to work from 8:30 to 5:15. We work it out; we work as a team. And it works really well,” Mills says.

Kryton International in the recession

The trust is even more important when things go sour. Kryton International Inc., like other companies serving the construction sector, was under intense pressure when the recession struck in 2008. But rather than be tight-lipped with employees, it engaged staff in preparations for the downturn and potential layoffs.

Suggestions from plant workers contributed to significant savings on the company’s energy bill, says Kevin Grant, who oversees plant operations in Vancouver for Kryton. The exercise fostered significant support from employees because management took all ideas seriously, adds Grant.

Kryton president and CEO Kari Yuers talked to staff as a group and told them which suggestions she would implement immediately and which might take longer. “But she definitely listened to all of them,” Grant says, adding, “That’s pretty much what’s kept me here, that managers actually listen to us.”

Workers have since been forthcoming with suggestions, even the quieter staff. “It empowers them, really,” Grant says. “In past years, it’s been tough to get guys to speak up and suggest things. We’ve tried to put in methods, suggestion boxes, stuff like that, so the shy guys can put their two cents in as well.”

The open attitude shows through in staff development. Yuers typically interviews all candidates and looks at the goals of potential hires as well as those of the company. Occasionally, she’ll make the decision not to hire an otherwise ideal candidate if she doesn’t think the fit is right.

“A lot of our candidates are surprised that we are really interested in what they’re looking for,” she says. “I think making sure you’re getting the good fit initially is key to employee engagement and hence productivity.”

Workers notice too, some even questioning the company’s priorities. “There was a comment made that we’re giving all these people these skills to go and work for someone else,” Grant recalls of one meeting about staff development. “Kari said, ‘If that makes their lives better, then so be it.’”


Are You One of the Best?

See how you stack up against your peers by registering for the 2011 Best Companies competition at There’s no cost to participate. You will be asked to provide details of your company’s HR practices and to administer a survey soliciting feedback from your employees. In addition to seeing how your workplace ranks alongside those of your peers, you will receive a report from our partners at MindField Group, who will crunch the numbers to summarize the results of your employee survey.