Employee engagement is a term often tossed around employer HR and management circles as being fundamental to productive workforces. But Assurance, a large independent insurance brokerage company, has figured out a way to both increase participation and revenue per employee. Jackie Gould, chief operating officer for Assurance, discusses how employee engagement can be important for both workplace culture and company bottom lines.  

Can you explain why an all-encompassing, bottom-to-top approach will help employers achieve real results from their employee engagement initiatives?

A two-way dialogue is extremely important. Whether an engagement initiative bubbles up from an employee or manager or is generated out of a senior leadership think-tank session, it needs to be vetted appropriately both ways. This means making sure it fits in with the strategic direction and values of the company, as well as ensuring that it hits the mark for the people directly impacted. Implementing any new initiative must account for the full spectrum of its impact – sometimes this is a very quick consideration process, other times it means slowing down and seeking out input from a lot of people before acting.

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Our online suggestion box (hosted by our fictional light bulb character “Ivan Idea”) is a great example of how we make it easy for employees to give feedback, yet funnel the ideas through a process to consider and implement. 

Over the years, Assurance has capitalized on employee engagement to improve satisfaction and overall profits. Can you describe what initial steps Assurance took to revitalize its workplace?

First and foremost was simply recognizing that we had a problem. Our path to solve it came largely in the form of revitalizing what we were good at as a company and an employer, but had gotten buried during a sustained period of growth and change. We never stopped caring about our employees, but it felt that way for many of them. Our first step was to fall on our sword and simply say we were sorry. We knew we had piled on too much change in one year; we didn’t handle it well; our employees felt the pain; and we were sorry.

From there, we made a focused effort to listen more and act on what we heard, and things started to change. We didn’t slow down our growth or our need to keep changing to improve as a company, but we did put systems and communication in place to handle it all much more smoothly. And we added perks, flexibility, and visible benefits that made people’s work life and home balance more effective.

I’m assuming that Assurance didn’t stop reviewing its employee engagement initiatives after the first go around. How has Assurance modified these efforts for the better?

Employee engagement isn’t something we think about as its own separate line item. The best way I can describe it is that “employee engagement” would never be a standalone agenda item in any meeting at Assurance, but rather a bullet point to consider under every agenda item. Any topic we discuss naturally brings up questions like: how does this impact employees?  Who has more information on this topic? Who do we need to check it up with to make sure we get it right? What other stakeholders are impacted?

See also: Think like a marketer to engage employees, drive loyalty

New ideas or changes can sometimes take longer to implement this way, but it’s easier to absorb in the long run. My personal hope is that anytime “management” makes a wrong decision at Assurance that a.) we’ll hear about it, b.) we’ll learn how to fix it, and c.) we’ll always care enough to get it right. 

How can employee programs such as business plans, spot recognition and a comprehensive wellness strategy help?

At Assurance, we build from a couple important big concepts that frame much of what we do. For example: “Minimize Risk. Maximize Health.” is much more than a tagline for us; it’s a core passion that we apply both externally with our clients and internally with our employees. This concept feeds very naturally into our corporate wellness program, which includes a full spectrum of personal health – physical fitness, healthy eating, tobacco-free lifestyle, financial wellness and personal safety and well-being.

Another major component of our corporate culture is appreciation. This includes peer-to-peer appreciation which is most visible in our online “High Five” system, where employees can thank and recognize other employees publicly or privately for a job well done. And it also comes in the form of many celebrations we hold that allow our employees to spend time together in less formal settings. 

In 2015, do you see anything slowing growth among employee engagement programs at public-or privately-owned companies?

Most people in the public and private sector that I speak with are looking for ways to increase employee engagement. While cost and time can be obstacles, employers of all sizes are focused on ramping up their ability to create a positive work culture for their employees.

See also: Trick or treat: Boost engagement and loyalty with creative perks

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