Two HR leaders share their innovative strategies that have resultedÂ in industry-leading employee engagement rates.
By Marta Chmielowicz
What motivates talented employees to stay at a company?Â The answer is complex and multi-dimensional, and oftenÂ includes factors like opportunities for growth, work withÂ a greater purpose, consistent feedback and recognition,Â and a schedule that fits their lifestyle. But underlying theseÂ elements of a positive work experience is a culture thatÂ promotes high employee engagement.
Due to a tightening labor market and competitiveÂ global economy, high-performing individuals have anÂ unprecedented amount of freedom in where they chooseÂ to work and companies must adapt or get left behind. ISGÂ Director Stacey Cadigan says, âUltimately, engagementÂ has become deeper than just a workplace initiative. It isÂ embedded in the culture of the organization. Creating anÂ organization where employees feel they have what theyÂ need to be successful, are cared about as individuals, andÂ receive continuous feedback and the opportunity to growÂ needs to be embedded within the organizational culture.â
Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and Ceridian are twoÂ organizations working to revamp and modernize theirÂ employee engagement strategies. As a result of its efforts,Â Ceridian has increased its employee engagement by 22Â percent over three years to 79 percent today. Likewise,Â Alnylam Pharmaceuticals has a workforce that is 93Â percent engaged.
How have these two companies achieved such positiveÂ results?
Creating an effective employee engagement strategyÂ requires an understanding of existing employee attitudes.Â Annual employee engagement surveys have historicallyÂ been the norm, with DecisionWiseâs 2018 State ofÂ Employee Engagement Report indicating that 56 percentÂ of companies leveraged annual surveys in 2018 while onlyÂ 16 percent utilized more frequent quarterly surveys.
But according to Lisa Sterling, chief people and cultureÂ officer at Ceridian, infrequent annual surveys do notÂ necessarily provide an accurate reading of companyÂ culture. âWe believe that as the world of work hasÂ changed significantly, that the traditional employeeÂ engagement surveys are just too outdated and archaic,âÂ she explains. âThey donât address information in realÂ time. When you have sites out there like Glassdoor whereÂ people can go out and comment on the pros and cons ofÂ your organization, measuring that internally once or twiceÂ a year is not significant enough. It doesnât change businessÂ results and it doesnât change behavior.â
In fact, Ceridian has chosen to abandon annual surveysÂ completely. Instead, the company has begun its transitionÂ toward real-time, every day evaluations of employee netÂ promoter scores through its Dayforce HCM platform. OnceÂ complete, this approach will allow Ceridianâs HR team toÂ consolidate all of its people data into one comprehensiveÂ database that can be easily leveraged for more holisticÂ insights by leadership teams.
But the transformation isnât happening overnight. TheÂ company first moved away from annual engagementÂ surveys back in 2016 when it adopted bi-annual surveys,Â and then quarterly pulse surveys in 2017.
âWe began measuring engagement much more in realÂ time with very specific areas of focus based on whatÂ we knew was driving behaviors and driving businessÂ outcomes,â explains Sterling. By examining areas whereÂ engagement was linked to regrettable turnover andÂ low employee net promoter scores, Ceridian was able toÂ identify two key focus areas: workplace experience andÂ leadership effectiveness.
âThis year, weâve moved even further away from that withÂ actual real-time data,â she adds. âAnd next year, we willÂ be measuring engagement every day as part of our HCMÂ solution.â
In contrast, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals finds value in itsÂ annual employee engagement survey as a jumpingÂ off point for further discussion about areas of focus.Â According to Karen Anderson, senior vice presidentÂ and CHRO, the company has implemented an annualÂ culture survey through Quantum for the past eight years,Â delivering a wealth of consistent longitudinal data thatÂ proves valuable for measuring the impact of specificÂ initiatives overall as well as by leader. For example, theÂ organization asks employees about their understandingÂ of company culture and the operating model, trust inÂ leadership, and initiatives to meet individual needs.
The annual survey is then supplemented with shortÂ pulse surveys targeted toward employees who ratedÂ the company low in specific areas like work-life balanceÂ or communication. The pulse surveys are distributed sixÂ months after the initial survey and ask three questions:
- Have you begun to see results in the last six months?
- Do you understand the commitment of your respectiveÂ senior leader?
- Have you had an opportunity to give input and ideas toÂ improving the culture in your area?
âThis gives the employees an open space opportunity toÂ give us comments,â says Anderson. âIt helps our leadersÂ see what is moving the needle and what is supporting theÂ group. Or if they think they have made progress but halfÂ the group disagrees, that in itself is a good indication toÂ the leader that the diversity in which theyâre approachingÂ the problem may not resonate with everyone. It is helpingÂ individual leaders who at the core own their engagementÂ and culture.â
Listen to Employees
But Ceridian and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals donât only relyÂ on engagement survey resultsâboth companies provideÂ employees with opportunities to offer direct feedback.
âEmployees have different needs and differentÂ requirements to be successful, whether that is work-lifeÂ balance, career opportunities, mentoring, or otherÂ programs,â says Cadigan. âA more bottom-up approachÂ to work engagement where employees can help craftÂ their work experience and increase the fit betweenÂ the employee and employer will ultimately result inÂ improved performance and higher levels of engagement.Â Organizations should therefore talk to their people aboutÂ their goals, understand what employees want, and thenÂ figure out how to align employee personal goals with theÂ companyâs business objectives.â
Alnylam Pharmaceuticals does this by inviting 15 to 18Â individuals each year to participate in a talent boardÂ that digs into the results of the employee engagementÂ survey, discusses how to support each segment of theÂ workforce, and develops various proposals for addressingÂ organizational problems. Employees are nominatedÂ to participate on the board for a one-year term andÂ are chosen based on their passion, commitment to theÂ organization, and outspoken nature.
Anderson also notes that participation on the talentÂ board presents a coveted opportunity for career growth.Â The chosen individuals serve as representatives andÂ spokespeople for employees across functions, and get aÂ rare chance to guide policy, test new ideas, and presentÂ their ideas to the senior leadership team.
The concepts developed by the talent board are discussedÂ in vice president-level meetings which occur every otherÂ month. âThese three-hour workshops are very hands-onÂ and occur at tables with groups of eight,â explainsÂ Anderson. âAnd we pose different topicsâwe work onÂ emotional intelligence concepts, we work on the conceptÂ of life and flexibility, and how to approach employees. So,Â itâs really to equip leaders with the opportunity to banterÂ ideas and share best practices.â
Ceridian has also implemented various strategies to getÂ to the root of employee attitudes. According to Sterling,Â âThe thing that we have found to be so incrediblyÂ successful is the philosophy of going to where the action isÂ and listening with intent. I think itâs a missed opportunityÂ when organizations arenât going down to that lowest paidÂ employee, sitting down next to them in their cubicle, andÂ asking them âWhat can I do to help you? How can I makeÂ your work life better?ââ
One of the ways that the company engages all levels ofÂ the workforce is through regularly scheduled, global townÂ halls where employees can spend time speaking with theÂ CEO. Another opportunity is a global, all-hands meetingÂ where leaders can ask questions, answer questions, andÂ engage with their people.
After this meeting, leadership team members shareÂ information and determine the areas where changeÂ could have the greatest impact on employee well-being.Â For example, the event recently resulted in technologyÂ improvements to allow greater collaboration acrossÂ geographically-dispersed teams and a flexible time awayÂ from work program that has dramatically improvedÂ engagement. These decisions and the thought processesÂ behind them are then communicated throughout all levelsÂ of the organization.
This type of approach allows organizations to get aÂ more accurate idea of each employeeâs needs, whichÂ ISGâs Cadigan believes is especially important in todayâsÂ multi-generational workforce. âThe millennial generationÂ typically gets credit for prioritizing good work-lifeÂ balance. Generation X is known for seeking recognitionÂ from their leaders. However, managers in organizationsÂ need to ensure they are focusing on managing individualÂ differences rather than generational stereotypes.Â Designing the right strategy for each organization requiresÂ a strong understanding of the individual dynamics in theÂ workforce.â
In addition to providing opportunities for employees to beÂ heard, Alnylam and Ceridian can attest to the importanceÂ of delivering work-life balance. âOne of the things thatÂ weâve learned is people have a big philosophy aroundÂ wanting better integration between work and life, andÂ that has been something that consistently came up in ourÂ overall engagement conversations and discussions in theÂ past two years,â says Sterling. âOne of our goals is to selectÂ really smart people and give them the power to do theirÂ job and the flexibility to be the best version of themselvesÂ at and away from work.â
Ceridian provides this flexibility in its âTake Twoâ program,Â started in 2017 to allow any employee to take spend twoÂ hours throughout the day taking care of personal matters.Â While this initiative immediately raised engagement,Â Ceridian then compounded the effects with an unlimitedÂ time away from work program. These initiatives giveÂ employees the power to make decisions about howÂ they get their work done and the flexibility they needÂ to support a mindset of independence and personalÂ accountability.
Alnylam Pharmaceuticals has also adopted a similarÂ approach, with policies to support compressed workÂ weeks, remote working, flexible time-off, and ârechargeÂ timesâ where the entire company takes time off toÂ decompress.
âMore and more, employees want to control their timeÂ and achieve better balance,â Cadigan says. âWhether itÂ is offering more flexible work arrangements or uniqueÂ wellness programs, supporting a healthy work-life balanceÂ has become important for organizations looking toÂ enhance employee engagement.â