Broadcasters and service providers: What motivates your employees?

The real cost of replacing employees

In a world of mobile workers and high growth in the technology sector attracting and retaining top-quality employees for service providers is costly. Research by the Oxford Economics puts the cost of an employee leaving at £30,000. This includes the actual cost of recruitment and the lost productivity during the vacancy period. For operations teams within broadcasters and service providers the hidden cost can be even higher – with the need to maintain 24×7 cover other team members have to work twice as hard when there’s a vacancy often resulting in lower team morale. There’s also the hidden cost of knowledge lost to the old employer and knowledge gained by the new employer.

Consider also the impact on customers of disengaged employees or high staff turnover – as Richard Branson said: ‘look after your staff and they will look after your customers’.

So how do you engage with your employees so they don’t want to leave?

Employee Engagement

My experience is that when it comes to employee engagement there are four common areas that matter the most.

  1. Basic conditions – Is there a healthy working environment with effective systems, processes and infrastructure in place to support the employee? This includes fundamental aspects such as physical workspace, communications equipment and sustenance and also access to the right information, effective processes and systems. Recognising great performance is also a fundamental factor. Basic conditions need to be in place for employees to begin to feel engaged.
  2. Collaboration – Do employees and teams work well together – is collaboration encouraged or is there a silo mentality? This includes collaboration across teams as well as within teams. Collaboration means sharing ideas, goals and action plans, working openly. Effective collaboration is essential for agile companies whose customers expect responsive service. Note that collaboration and competition can co-exist!
  3. Company purpose – Does the company’s purpose inspire employees to go the extra mile? An inspirational purpose is one with which an employee identifies and cares deeply about – or cares sufficiently to devote most of their working day to. This of course requires a company to understand, state and effectively pursue its purpose but if an individual and companies purposes align great things usually follow.
  4. Career potential – Does the employee believe there are career development opportunities? Career development can mean different things to different people: some may want to progress into a specialist role whilst others may aspire to move through management. Whichever the case if employees don’t feel supported by the business (i.e. by leadership) in their own goals then they will be less engaged with the company’s goals.

Improvement Plan

So if you’d like to improve employee morale how would you go about doing this?

Firstly, if you are a leader then engage with your staff to involve them in the plan – before launching ‘improvements’! Otherwise how will you know what problem you’re trying to solve. Spend time with teams and talk to them to ensure you fully understand their perspective. You may get some surprises – some really basic things might be missing. Employee surveys are useful but they can be overdone and nothing beats talking to people to understand their perspective.

An example of how employee survey results can be misleading was when a company received feedback from a survey that its performance appraisal system was unfair as a specific case of poor work went seemingly unnoticed and inconsequential. Management couldn’t understand why this was the case until a discussion with the group that raised the concern revealed that they weren’t aware of the actions address the situation. The actions had not been communicated with the wider group for confidentiality reasons, but of course in doing so the group didn’t realise action had been taken.

An effective way to listen and understand what the job entails is for leadership to ‘go back to the floor’ and spend time with employees in their jobs. Working a 12-hour night shift would demonstrate commitment. Actions speak louder than words.

Another useful idea is to assemble a group of employees together as representatives to develop and share plans of how to improve engagement. If done fairly this formalises the process in the eyes of other employees and is a fantastic way to develop a well-tested plan that is ‘bought-into’ by most people.

Thinking Longer term

If quick wins are relatively easy to implement longer-term solutions usually take a lot more effort and commitment.

IT systems are a good case as many established companies suffer from legacy systems which make it hard for employees who have better technology at home than at work. For example apparently over 70% of tablets used at work are employees’ own devices. But creating a road map for improvements and involving users in the decisions increases ownership and might make them more patient when working on legacy systems. When designing systems consider the user experience. One company I knew had 5 different log-ins to get into a single system which was understandably frustrating for users especially as the system automatically logged them out after 5 minutes of inactivity. For broadcasters and service providers a common bugbear is too many false alarms in telemetry systems – this causes ‘alarm overload’ for operators and may result in a real alarm being missed.

Also consider processes – light touch whenever possible and owned and improved by the people who use them. Companies with highly engaged employees generally have a culture of openness and if something isn’t working they just change it rather than defending it. Getting processes right for employees is a great way to show commitment to collaboration. For instance if an employee always circumvents procedures at the expense of other employees and nothing is done about it then what sort of message does that send about collaboration?

When it comes to recruitment select new employees for best fit rather than just skills. Consider your team make-up – if possible get other employees involved in recruiting new staff – done well it’s a great way to create a robust recruitment process and also get buy-in to new employees. Also carry out ‘360 degree appraisals’ where employees appraise their boss and their peers and offer helpful feedback on performance improvement. This encourages a culture of openness and reminds the team leader they too can improve!

Gamification can work well to motivate staff and encourage innovation and collaboration, but beware of unintended consequences. I know one boss who gives a £50 amazon voucher to anyone who can prove him wrong on a technical point. Clearly this needs to be done in the right spirit so his employees don’t spend all their time trying to disprove everything he said.

Finally consider the merits of employee-owned shares. A study by Loughborough University found that three-quarters of UK employees who engaged with their employee share ownership plan were more motivated and committed to their employer. It does seem obvious that if employees actually own a stake in their employer’s company they will be more committed, work there longer and take less sick leave. This is exactly what the study found.

In conclusion

Employee morale isn’t rocket science, very often it’s about putting yourself in your employees shoes to understand what life’s like in their role and how it can be improved. One thing’s for sure if you treat your employees well you’ll get a very good return on investment. I’ve heard people say it’s a risk to train people too well as they will leave for a more senior job with a competitor. However I prefer Richard Branson’s approach when he says ‘train them well so they want to leave but treat them well enough that they don’t want to leave’.

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