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Looking forward to employee engagement

David Saul, managing director of leading serviced office operator Business Environment, discusses employee engagement, reflecting on 2011 and looking ahead to 2012. 

January is named after the Roman god Janus, who was usually depicted as a two-faced man looking towards the future and the past.

For those demanding to know what the Romans ever did for us – apart from the sanitation and straight roads – the Roman belief that January is a good time for reflecting on the previous year, while remaining focused on the year ahead, is well worth heeding for business leaders today.

At Business Environment, we’re passionate about employee engagement, partly because rewarding the people our success depends on is the right thing to do, partly because we believe it’s an approach that drives our business success.

I want to take a Janus-like glance back to the end of last year to share what we’ve been doing in this area recently. In the run-up to December, we decided that we wouldn’t hold a Christmas party. Contrary to what you might think, we don’t need the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future sent to our houses. The festive period is the most expensive time of the year for families, so we decided to look at how we could help our staff manage the cost of Christmas. We conducted a poll among all employees, asking whether we should arrange a Christmas party, or pay a bonus instead.

Perhaps the DJ we’ve booked in the past is just that bit too fond of Westlife, but the bonus was the clear winner!

Of course, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that many people will opt for a bonus at the most costly time of the year. The Christmas party can also be expensive if it involves buying a new outfit or taking a taxi. More inclusive and more popular among our employees, the bonus was the right choice for us last year. Our decision wasn’t too unusual – a study carried out by the business website London Loves Business found that nearly half of the capital’s businesses weren’t planning to stage a Christmas party.

Of course, there were companies that cancelled their Christmas party out of necessity because of difficult economic conditions. Indeed, one in five businesses in the London Loves Business survey cited budgetary concerns as their main reason for not arranging a party. That’s perhaps understandable – although managers should be wary of the false economy behind savings that damage staff morale.

Looking ahead, we want to build on our approach to the Christmas party throughout 2012. That doesn’t mean we plan to cancel all social events throughout the year, but rather we plan to listen carefully to our employees, understand their needs and consider how best we can reward them for their hard work.  Indeed, we’ll aim to take a communicative, two-way approach across the board, so appraisals, for instance, will be characterised by realistic targets that form part of a jointly agreed plan to support employee development. 

Businesses should consider the current economic climate not just in their dealings with clients, but their employees as well. Which is why, when it comes to the festive period, we’ll again listen to whether our employees would prefer a Christmas party or bonus.

If a bonus is selected, it won’t be a case of ‘Christmas is cancelled’, but the less catchy but far preferable ‘Christmas is better tailored to your needs’.

David Saul David Saul is Managing Director of Business Environment