The last company I worked at was a large American behemoth. Of epidermiese proporsies, you might say, if you have a bent towards a certain phantasmagoric TV series. It was unwieldy, and disjointed, and for the most part, employee morale was pretty low. (Except, of course, for a few of us who got to have a bit of fun once a year.)
And so, when we took part in a Gallup Employee Engagement exercise, to try and gauge the degree to which my estwhile colleagues felt part of the company, the result was somewhat poor. Not horribly terrible, or terribly horrible, but just low enough to be disturbing. Or just high enough to be encouraging – because there was enough to work with to try to improve things. So a lot of effort was put in – which might just have worked if I didn’t have to retrench nearly half my team, and I didn’t leave shortly thereafter. There was a healthy cynicism about what impact the efforts would have, but some people (and not just the HR bunnies) really gave it a good try.
I got to thinking about this today again, as the company I’m currently working for has just been voted one of Britain’s top employers. As I’m a contractor, rather than an employee, I have a slight distance from this, and can observe the reaction of my permie colleagues with a certain objectivity. It started this morning at the front door – everyone received a free Daily Telegraph (containing the news of the award being given to the 67 Top Employers), and a nice tin containing five compartments of jelly beans in corporate colours (believe it or not).
The impact of this award (or at least, the impact of the announcement of the award) has not been what I expected, though. Don’t get me wrong – it is a pretty good place to work. There are decent benefits, high flexibility in how you take them, and you even get a free lunch in the cafeteria every day. But crowing about how wonderful it is doesn’t reduce the high staff turnover, or the grumblings in the corridors. While the HR department are all bouncing off the walls in unmitigated ebullience, the staff that I deal with are somewhat less amused. There’s been a notable absence of high-fiving, and a fair bit of horseplay with the jelly beans. Those who have resigned recently and are serving out their notice period (I know two reasonably well) are not going around with glum faces wishing they hadn’t decided to leave.
Why this is, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a general aversion to self-expressed excellence. Perhaps people react badly when they’re told how good they have it (Four Yorkshire men come to mind…). Maybe it’s because McDonald’s made the list too.
But I think that there’s a lesson in there somewhere for companies. I personally think that the reaction would have been more positive if the message had been more along the lines of “Gosh – we got listed for the good things we do. Cor blimey – didn’t expect that! Any ideas on how we can get even better?”