Listening to the workforce

When Prudential scooped the Top Employer Award for Employee Engagement, the judges said they wanted to recognise an employer who had embraced the engagement agenda with great enthusiasm and to encourage them to keep up the momentum. spoke to Prudential's Alison Meale to find out what they have been doing.

When Prudential scooped the Top Employer Award for Employee Engagement, the judges said they wanted to recognise an employer who had embraced the engagement agenda with great enthusiasm and to encourage them to keep up the momentum.

It certainly worked. “We were thrilled to get the Award. It was a lovely surprise,” said Alison Meale, Relationship Manager UK Employee Forum & Unite.

She puts the change in the company's new focus on engagement down to the 2009 appointment of Chief Executive of Prudential UK and Europe, Rob Devey. “There is a commitment from the executive committee that if we give people a chance to have their say it is really important that we listen and are prepared to act on the results,” she says, adding that employee engagement is now at the heart of the company's business strategy.

Another catalyst was the appointment of Cathy Lewis as HR Director, UK & Europe. “Together they created an energy, momentum and vision to our employee engagement strategy,” says Alison.

“For Rob, it was a priority to position the company as 'a great place to work' and employee engagement was a key part of this,” she adds.

The first full engagement survey was conducted in August and September 2010. Previous staff surveys were more about cultural issues, but “did not speak about the day to day experience of people working in the company and make it clear what it was that makes a firm a great place to work”, says Alison. They were also aimed at feeding information to business leaders rather than being an action document for change at every level of the company.

The survey included over 70 questions covering 15 different topics around engagement and enablement. “We were keen to look about what tools and support people needed to deliver their best,” says Alison. There was a risk with so many questions that people might not fill in the survey, but the response was very good. Around 87% of staff responded. Even more impressively, when the survey was repeated this summer that figure rose to 89%.

There are no incentives for people to fill in the survey apart from having their voice heard. Alison says one of the main reasons for the good response rate is the involvement from the early stages of the employee forum and the Unite union who encouraged people to take part. “They were at the heart of the survey and ensured it was not just a diktat from the top,” says Alison.


She adds that the leadership were very keen that the results of the survey were not turned into “yet another HR process”. Instead, they took the risk and put their trust in managers taking action on the ground. Tools were provided for people to run sessions based on the survey results, but no deadlines or other stipulations were set. “It was felt that it was more important that the issues were on team agendas and were being talked about openly,” says Alison. “It was not about a tickbox approach.”

Forum representatives run sessions for line managers and the response has been good. One hundred and eighty managers out of 400 UK managers turned up. “Managers valued the opportunity to talk to other managers about how they were responding to the survey results. It helps to bring managers from different sectors together and as a result the forum has suggested more regular manager networking across functions,” says Alison.

The company has also created an engagement board composed of nominated senior managers who are responsible for a pan-company picture.

Alison says the whole approach has resulted in a stronger sense of enablement and engagement. People feel a closer connection between the jobs they do and the overall business strategy, she says.

Interestingly, work life balance does not emerge as a big issue from the feedback since most staff say they are happy with their work life balance, particularly women.

Alison herself has three sons aged 17, 14 and 10 and says the Prudential has supported her through three maternity leave periods and says she leaves work punctually to collect her children. However, she logs on later despite no-one asking her to. She says the leadership on work life balance comes from the top with Devey. “He believes strongly that it is ok to be a whole person and that it is not about being seen in the office, but about what you deliver. We do expect high performance from people, though,” says Alison.

Alison's job as Relationship Manager UK Employee Forum & Unite is unusual as she bridges industrial relations and the survey. “It completes the loop as we get to hear what employees really think and cannot hide behind policies,” she says.


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