With the build up to Christmas in full swing, I’ve been chatting recently to friends and family about what their workplaces have planned for the festive season. It’s been an interesting snapshot of how different organisations approach it, to say the least.
Generally speaking, their feedback has been pretty scathing. For some individuals, their organisation does nothing. Literally: nothing. No party, no Christmas lunches, no Christmas Eve early finish… nothing. For some others, there are events on offer, but at a price. As a result, they are only accessible to those employees who are willing and able to pay – something which is clearly not an option for everyone at this cash strapped time of year.
The Benefex approach
I, on the other hand, have been able to tell them everything we do at Benefex for our employees, and the feedback has been unanimous. ‘That sounds like an amazing place to work’, one friend said to me. And, while I will fully admit my clear bias here… I really think that it is.
The thing is though, it’s not always the big, dramatic gestures that make the biggest difference. Which is just as well really, because if you’re an organisation of 4,000 people it’s not necessarily viable to fund a three course sit down dinner for the whole business. Sometimes, it’s the little things which really stick with people, and really make them feel that their organisation values them.
Here are just a few of the things I’ve found over the years to have had a marked impact on employee engagement and individuals’ perception of the business. This isn’t about a huge investment – this is all about the little things, which sometimes really can make the biggest difference.
In direct terms, giving time costs nothing. Of course there are indirect costs – primarily in terms of productivity, having lost a percentage of your workforce out of the business for a period of time – but these don’t need to be extensive, and can be more than offset by the goodwill and engagement you will engender amongst your employees as a result.
The amount of time you give probably doesn’t need to be as much as you’d think, either. One of the most well-received things that we do here at Benefex at Christmas is give our teams additional time for their Christmas team lunches out. They fund the lunches… but we give them the rest of the afternoon off that day. It doesn’t come out of their holiday entitlement, it’s just a small way of us saying thank you, and feedback suggests that it really does hit the mark.
I’ve spoken before about my love of the One Minute Manager approach. Primarily because it reminds us to do what we so often forget to do as managers: praise our employees. Being told by your line manager, a director, or even one of your peers that you’ve done an awesome job can have a staggering impact on your state of mind, how you feel about your employer, and how motivated you are to go on and do something similarly fantastic going forward. Saying nice things costs nothing… but can mean everything.
Mary Poppins got it spot on: “In every job that must be done there is an element of fun, You find the fun and snap, the job’s a game.” Okay, so it’s an oversimplification, and clearly not everything we need our employees to do is going to be hugely enjoyable, but if we can provide the ‘fun’ around their day to day roles then it doesn’t half make a difference to how someone feels about being at work.
At Christmas at Benefex we celebrate the ‘Twelve Days of Benefex’ – every morning our employees come in to a (frankly terrible!) Christmas cracker joke and a small treat… which could be anything from an advent calendar to a bowl of Brussels sprouts! (Okay, so our definition of ‘treat’ is rather wide!) It’s not going to change the fact that they’ve got a challenging portfolio of work to deal with that day… but it hopefully just helps to get things off onto the right foot, and set the tone for the day.
There are times in your employees’ life when the thing which makes the biggest difference to them isn’t time, praise, fun, or even financial reward. Sometimes, the greatest thing you can do as an employer is to help smooth the way for your employees when they deal with challenges outside of the workplace. Perhaps they have an ill relative and need time away from the office to help care for them. Maybe their childcare arrangements have fallen through and they need some flexibility around their working hours for a few days. Or perhaps it’s simply that their car has broken down and they need to work from home for the morning while it’s fixed.
In all and any of these circumstances, you have the ability to make a significant positive impact in how you manage the situation, and the amount of empathy, flexibility and support that you are able to show an employee struggling to balance their home and work responsibilities. We know that one of the most important things to all of us is to be able to find an appropriate balance between work and home life. An employee who knows that their home problems won’t be compounded by the difficulties they are going to run into at work as a result is likely to be more motivated, more engaged, and more committed to their organisation as a result… and it’s hard to believe any business wouldn’t want to end up with that as a result.
Making a difference to your employees doesn’t need to be about spending vast amounts of money or investing huge amounts of time. Sometimes, it’s the very smallest things which have the greatest impact of all.