4 steps to boosting engagement and workforce productivity

There are four steps organisations and their HR leaders can take to improve employee engagement and workforce productivity, according to Natalie Jones, people and organisation director at Mars Food Australia.

1. Understand and prioritise engagement
Firstly, she recommended prioritising engagement and taking some time to explore what engagement means to your team members.

“Our approach on engagement provides a more personal, human lens through which leaders can view the workplace, and find ways for associates and teams to make a difference and feel fulfilled in the work they do,” she said.

Mars Food measures employee engagement through Gallup, and for seven years the company has been above the 80th percentile for grand mean.

While the company focuses strongly on this, Jones has found that follow-through on these is more important to improve engagement scores, according to Jones.

“So if you say you are going to do something, you do it,” she said.

Even though the engagement survey is actually conducted annually, each line manager and each team will have at least four to sometimes 10 engagement review sessions throughout the course of the year, and these are supported by one-on-one engagement sessions as well as team engagement sessions.

These sessions help teams to address issues and concerns as they arise, provide a forum for difficult and sometimes uncomfortable conversations about the team dynamic, establish ways of working, and build support and recognition.

2. Drive and invest in engagement
The second step for boosting engagement and workforce productivity is to drive engagement all year and invest the time in impact planning, according to Jones, who said this ensures issues are addressed in a timely way so that the team can move on together.

Individual teams in Mars develop “impact plans”, and sessions for these occur regularly throughout the year, according to Shaid Shah, general manager of Mars Food Australia.

“These sessions help teams to address issues and concerns as they arise, provide a forum for difficult and sometimes uncomfortable conversations about the team dynamic, establish ways of working, and build support and recognition,” he said.

“This is based on the theory that great teams are not made up of great people who have unmatched skills and abilities, rather great people who consistently work effectively together and demonstrate high performance collaboration.”

3. HR, meet strategy
The third most important step in the process is to make HR a strategic leader of the business and free strategic thinkers up from the administration that comes with the function, said Jones.

The agenda of management team meetings in Mars Food is split up into working on the business of today followed by the business of tomorrow, according to Jones, who says “talent demand planning” is a key element of the latter agenda.

This involves looking at the business’s future strategy and working back from this to understand the likely type of demand and how to meet this, both in terms of numbers but more importantly through the calibre and capability of people,” said Jones, who sits on the management team for Mars Food locally, along with the business’s R&D, sales, marketing, finance and supply directors.

4. Work on culture and purpose
The fourth step in improving employee engagement and workforce productivity is to build and embed a wellbeing culture and strive for a higher purpose, she said.

“Bring energy, fulfilment and happiness to work so every associate can make the business mean more,” Jones said.

Mars Food has a wellbeing program called “Believe”, and Shah said the philosophy behind this is to provide the time and resources for associates (Mars’ term for employees) and their families to lead healthy lives.

The program is run by a group of associates who organise:

  • Physical activities such as corporate games, dragon boating, cycling and running events
  • Nutrition programs like Weight Watchers at work, subsidised healthy meals in the canteen and nutrition education sessions
  • Mental health awareness through education and information sessions, and
  • Community involvement and support

Through annual health and fitness assessments, in 2013 Shah said associates were 5.7cm slimmer, 23 per cent fitter, 39 per cent healthier, 72 per cent less depressed and took 15 less hours off work due to illness.

“This has a positive impact on productivity, and a correlation can be seen between wellbeing, engagement and business performance,” he said.

For the full interview with Jones and Shah and feature article on how Mars Food improves engagement and workforce productivity, see the next issue of Inside HR magazine.