Despite a continuous focus on staff engagement, a number of firms still encounter difficulty crafting a successful engagement strategy.

At Human Resources’ HR Excellence Awards 2015, however, winners in employee engagement proved it is possible to launch engagement initiatives with a proven impact on staff.

We reveal their winning engagement secrets.

The most conventional, and perhaps, desirable definition of employee engagement is a Utopian scene, where smiling employees work harmoniously and collaborate effectively as productivity skyrockets.

But the sobering truth is creating true employee engagement within firms is a painful process that is often messy and difficult.

Per a recent report from WeSpire, only 27% of firms have an official employee engagement policy, despite 76% of employees under the age of 30 wanting to see their employer do more around it.

“Employee engagement and corporate culture have become top-level business priorities for senior management, as there is no arguing that an engaged workforce is a higher performing one. But the disconnect between intent and execution is widespread,” says Susan Hunt Stevens, founder and CEO at WeSpire.

What are the main reasons for the disconnect?

A report by Altimeter Group attributed the lack of a coherent approach to employee engagement to a lack of co-ordination between HR and other functions, such as marketing.

While the HR function was highlighted as leading employee engagement initiatives at 41% of companies, marketing led these efforts at only 11% of companies.

However, marketing was found to be more involved (47%) than HR (39%) in actual employee engagement efforts.

“Many organisations don’t know how to tackle the problem of engagement, and are often unaware of how technology and internal advocates can champion the effort,” stated the report.

That is precisely why in the HR Excellence Awards 2015, a jury of HR leaders from the region’s top employers, lauded firms who crafted an employee engagement strategy that has made a difference to an organisation’s business and performance.

To highlight the best practices they are adopting in their award-winning employee engagement initiatives, the winners of this year’s Excellence in Employee Engagement category have shared with us their success stories.

Case one: Yahoo

This year, Yahoo Singapore was awarded the gold award for Excellence in Employee Engagement – and for good reason.

The company takes pride in focusing on improving its employees’ health and wellness, while creating an innovative and family oriented work environment, integrating collaboration across departments.

It organises fun events and activities to engage not only employees, but also their family members. (Family day, where Yahoos bring their families to the office, is an example.)

Wellbeing programmes for employees include stress management workshops, health talks, screenings and free flu shots.

Yahoo’s VP for HR in APAC, Vineet Gambhir, believes all engagement programmes should be built on the basis of respect.

“Engagement initiatives are like the different rooms of the house – some initiatives target a specific audience and different initiatives have different objectives and end outcomes,” he says.

“Respect on the other hand is universal – it applies to everyone. Everyone deserves, wants and is motivated by respect. The job title change, salary change, responsibilities, are all manifestations of a need for respect.”

The firm has a core team called the Singapore catalysts which helps drive new initiatives in the office. These include anything around office improvements, such as getting new facilities and creating new spaces to arranging a fitness week with a local gym.

The HR team worked closely with SG catalysts in 2015 to plan its bowling event, “This is how we roll”, and the family day at the zoo, “Zoomanji”.

The deep engagement and sense of solidarity was reflected in Yahoo Singapore’s high engagement scores in the company’s global internal engagement survey for 2014.

“Respect your ex and prospective employees the same way as your current employees. Respect your new employee the same way as your longest tenured employee,” Gambhir says.

“Respect your bottom performer the same way as your top employee. Respect your employee regardless of grade level or title. Respect does not have boundaries. It must be part of the DNA. True boundary less respect is what employee engagement is all about.”

Moving forward, the SG HR team plans to create an APAC-wide engagement framework to align Yahoos in all its APAC locations.

This will allow all its APAC employees to have a common engagement experience they can share as they continue to work more cross functionally and on cross-border projects.

Case two: National Environment Agency

The bronze award winner for Excellence in Employee Engagement was awarded to The National Environment Agency (NEA).

It believes that when staff are able to reach their full potential at work, they are more likely to stay committed to their jobs.

“In NEA, employee engagement means engaging the mind and connecting with the heart of every employee. Keeping our officers engaged, motivated and feeling that they belong to one NEA builds a dedicated workforce that goes the extra mile to serve our nation,” says Gloria Chin, HR director of NEA.

NEA’s employee engagement framework, therefore, focuses on delivering an authentic and compelling experience to its employees, and has been ramped up over the years to boost staff engagement levels.

In particular, targeted engagement sessions have been organised to ensure the management team hears the concerns and views from different staff segments in NEA.

Tea sessions with different groups of officers and HR roadshows, during which key HR policies are shared, are opportunities for HR and senior management to gain a better understanding of the concerns faced by staff. Over the past 12 months, 23 tea sessions and 17 roadshows were conducted.

Engagement starts at the top, Chin reveals.

“Employee engagement initiatives are not driven solely by the HR team. Commitment to employee engagement is present at every level of leadership, from the CEO down to every immediate supervisor.”

There has also been a focus on building pride among employees and giving employees a sense of achievement for work well done, leading to the launch of initiatives such as “Behind the Scenes”, “Shine a Light” and “Together”. These are e-publications where the organisation profiles its officers and the work they do in NEA.

As a result of these engagement efforts, the organisation has sustained a healthy 95% retention rate for its workforce in the past three years.

Case 3: National Kidney Foundation

Singapore’s National Kidney Foundation (NKF) also made its mark in excelling in employee engagement.

The company believes in engaging each and every one of its employees to build an inclusive workplace culture together – one that is built on fairness, merit and respect to help employees perform to their full potential.

In line with that aim, a specialised employee engagement programme – the 5Cs – was introduced in 2009 to amplify its engagement objectives.

The 5Cs are the guiding principles which steer employees in their interactions with patients, colleagues and stakeholders – collaboration, commitment, communication, compassion and consistency.

Now these principles are at the heart of the NKF culture and are consistently reinforced through the various activities to create a sustainable workplace. Such activities include anniversary celebrations and compulsory induction programmes.

Throughout the year, many workplace health activities are also organised for employees such as the staff health day, the inter-zone basketball tournament, a bowling competition, the “Bond Upon a Walk”, and many more.

Employees are also given time off to participate in “Healthy Mondays” for team building activities and exercises.

Each engagement initiative is led by the CEO, leaders and the HR team to boost efforts in motivating and retaining talent, increasing productivity, fostering bonds among colleagues and strengthening NKF’s position as an employer of choice.

Since 2011, the 5Cs have been integrated as part of all employees’ appraisals under the qualitative measurement section. Questions on 5Cs and engagement were also included in the organisation climate survey (OCS) which is conducted once every two years.

The firm’s employee engagement efforts seem to have paid off. OCS 2015 showed employees are demonstrating significantly higher commitment towards NKF with its employee engagement index increasing from 4.85 in 2013 to 5.09 in 2015.

In October 2014, an employee pulse survey was conducted internally as well to understand the employees’ perception on the impact of its initiatives.

Almost all (90%) of employees rated six and above on the employee happiness scale (10 being the happiest), while 75% of employees responded “Yes, I am proud of NKF”.

Case four: SABIC

While SABIC was not an awardee, its “Lights of Our Future” is a unique CSR programme worthy of mention, and a part of SABIC’s global sustainability strategy supporting its vision 2025.

It was developed in line with two of SABIC’s CSR priority areas: science and technology education, and environmental protection, designed to leverage its unique technology and innovation expertise.

Through this bespoke programme, the company seeks a lasting impact by educating its future generation, heightening their awareness of sustainability, and encouraging creativity and innovation.

Lights of Our Future was piloted in late 2014 and expanded in 2015 in two of SABIC’s key Asia markets – China and Singapore, with plans to extend to other Asia markets in the next few years.

In Singapore, Lights of Our Future partnered with an NGO, Junior Achievement, in a community outreach programme to young students.

The programme targets to instil the principle of environmental protection and sustainable living in children aged 11 years, through an interactive customised curriculum developed by SABIC volunteers.

The activity driven curriculum includes identifying real environmental problems around them, realising current efforts to alleviate them and the role of science.

The programme also serves as an excellent platform for cross-function collaboration among employees and for knowledge transfer on the company’s sustainability strategy.

More than 1000 students and 150 SABIC employees in Asia were engaged by this bespoke programme over 15 months as of November 2015, devoting more than 1,800 hours of volunteer time, exceeding the original target of reaching more than 700 students by the end of 2015.

In Singapore, teachers found inspiration in this alternative teaching method.

Unity Primary School teacher Elizabeth Ng said: “This programme greatly enhanced students’ knowledge on environmental challenges in addition to promoting values to sustainable living.”

Image: Shutterstock

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