Engaged employees

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) report “Keeping culture purpose and values at the heart of your SME”, makes interesting reading for growing SMEs. The report using case studies from a range of different businesses and organisations, examines what happens as organisations grow and it becomes harder to instill in employees the ethos, drive and direction that the organisation initially set out with.

In the early days of many businesses, employees were recruited because they were fully on-board, engaged with the founding ethos and working alongside the founders. As companies grow, later recruits become distanced from the founders, and the clarity of vison and direction gets diluted, it becomes harder to keep a growing workforce engaged and happy.

Hard measures, intelligent responses

Time and attendance systems provide ‘hard‘ workforce measures but the data can be used to contribute to ‘softer’ insights and actions. Absence management is one particular ‘hard’ measure that has a softer side. But as one report participant notes, low absence rates can be a good measure of employee engagement but shouldn’t be viewed in isolation from other feedback and data.

Another example from the report demonstrated how a time and attendance system had picked up on ‘time fraud’, but the issue with the employee was handled in a thoughtful way in line with the company’s guiding ethos.

The Operations Director at MJF cleaning, Lyndsay Wind, cited an example where a member of staff’s timekeeping became an issue:
Fraudulent timekeeping is gross misconduct and it is instant dismissal. “We didn’t take that route because we thought: They may have come from a culture where that has been allowed to happen”… So rather than doing that, we sat them down and said, “We have done a full investigation, and we would like you to make up the hours that you owe and obviously improve the standards in your areas.”

“We didn’t have to do anything else. [We took this approach] because all of our values are centred around people, training, not turning our back on somebody who is not doing the job properly, looking into the reasons why they are not doing the job properly.”

The engaged workforce taken to another level

Zappos is a US online shoe and clothing retailer and is often held up as one of the shining examples of a happy engaged workforce. The founder Tony Hsieh has said that ensuring the workforce is totally immersed and living the Zappos culture is what has driven the company’s success.

One example of the way in which Zappos ensure the workforce is culturally aligned is in offering new recruits $4,000 to leave after an initial 5 week training period. Those who take the money are obviously not right for the company. Tony Hsieh has also been quoted as saying he’s lost $100 million in ‘bad hires’ in the search for the right candidates with the right mindset.

A case study like Zappos certainly gets good PR and spreads the word, Amazon bought Zappos in 2009 for $1.2 billion.

While the Zappos example may not work for many organisations, it takes thought and effort to keep an engaged and happy workforce. Studies (and the Zappos case study) show it can be well worth it financially in terms of productivity and innovation. In the recent SME Barometer Report,  57% of the MDs surveyed praised the motivation of their workforce as a significant factor in their business success.

Finally take a look at HR Bartender Sharlyn Lauby’s recent blog article – The T-Shirt Employee Engagement Survey. Simple and to the point!


The CIPD report ‘Keeping culture purpose and values at the heart of Your SME’ shares practical ideas for SMEs to keep their workforce engaged.

Zappos culture

SME Barometer Report 

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