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Building employee engagement

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Increased revenue, higher value returns and greater retention: these are just some of the recognised results of having an engaged workforce in your business. In recent years there have been many studies that prove that ‘employee engagement’ is not just buzzword or fad, and that demonstrate why the pursuit of this goal is a key focus for many New Zealand businesses. We’re interested in achieving this with our own workforce, and as recruiters, we also have an externally-focused interest in the topic. Whether or not it’s cached in those exact words, we find that our candidates actively seek out those organisations with visibly positive levels of employee engagement when considering their potential future employers. And of course, our clients tend to be heavily invested in the pursuit of employee engagement for the same reasons we are. In fact, when we decided to hold an event back in August, we asked our clients to suggest potential topics.  The responses we received almost unanimously requested a focus on engagement and leadership. It’s fair to say that while it’s generally understood that engagement is important, the practical ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ are not always as simple or obvious!

We were fortunate to have Jon Macdonald, CEO of Trade Me, speaking as our special guest. Joining Jon was our own CEO, Simon Bennett. Times of growth and change can be challenging for maintaining engagement so our two speakers certainly have the experience to talk on this subject. Together they answered questions and facilitated a robust discussion on the merits, approaches and theories of employee engagement, with their own leadership experiences bringing the questions to life. Because of continued interest in this subject, we’ve put together a recap of the two most popular questions from our event, editing the responses of our esteemed guests in order to bring you access to the best of the content.

How can you improve engagement in your business, without a big budget?

The first step is recognising that improving employee engagement is not about showering your employees with perks. Yes, weekly fruit deliveries and gym memberships are nice to have, and certainly will be enjoyed and appreciated by employees but ultimately, will not be the biggest contributing factor in levels of engagement. Once you understand where engagement originates from, you can stop worrying that your business doesn’t have the dollars to spend on a foosball table in the staff room.

Instead, it’s helpful to think about engagement using the following definition: An engaged employee is enthusiastically committed to, accountable for, and aligned with their organisation’s goals. Building that connection between an employee and the business goals is essential for engagement. However as big profitability goals don’t contribute to a feeling of commitment and accountability for most people, goals should be tailored to the different cohorts within your business. Jon also pointed out that basic communication is a key element of engagement. People need to know and thoroughly understand business goals, as well as the non-financial, next-level goals. Then it’s important to give employees a chance to talk about these goals, and to provide their input. This is not a costly exercise and providing multiple forums, channels and ongoing occasions to engage together will improve employee engagement.

What’s the best approach for keeping the Millennial generation engaged at work?

We are certainly not the first people to say this – but it seems clear that the Millennial generation aren’t coming to work to feed your businesses’ profit. Of course, they want their own money, but they aren’t super excited about whether the business makes a million dollars or beats a target by 20%. A sense of purpose is the important thing. At Trade Me for example, they know and believe their marketplace is really beneficial to New Zealand. Their marketplace helps a lot of the small guys and the little businesses get underway and that’s a part of the sense of purpose for the team. Within the AWF Madison Group businesses, a core responsibility for many employees is helping people to secure employment; to have a livelihood, and this adds a powerful sense of meaning to their day-to-day work. At the other end of the spectrum at AWF, they are helping get people work-ready. In fact at AWF, it’s long had a focus on giving back, and doing something for our country which perhaps has been less well understood and articulated within the other group businesses, Madison and Absolute IT, but we’re working on it. Basically, there always has to be that ‘why’ for this generation to come to work engaged, and depending on the nature of your business, you might have to strive a little harder to identify, describe and communicate what that is.

We’ve already touched on communication and again this is a key factor in maintaining an engaged Millennial workforce, though perhaps this is true of all generations. The workforce today wants clear lines of communication that aren’t held back by hierarchy; they want to be able to talk to their leaders. This in turn needs to be underpinned by a sense of mutual respect and valuing everyone’s contribution. Trade Me has a clearly articulated ‘no dickheads’ policy, which really appeals to talented employees. Great people want to work alongside great co-workers and everyone appreciates that certain behaviours won’t be tolerated. This allows employees to work better and facilitates increased engagement. In both businesses, we work off an assumption that by and large, people want to do well. So, we set up goals that are meaningful for the different cohorts in the business, and give them the space and tools to succeed.


We’ve only been able to touch on a small part of what is a vast topic in today’s blog post but look forward to expanding on this subject in the future. Readers, if you have further questions please do get in touch. If you’d like to be on the list to attend future client events, please don’t hesitate to advise your Madison consultant.