A UK survey of managers across health and social care found that nearly two thirds (62 per cent) of them believe that Christmas parties are important in helping improve employee engagement. The survey comes in the wake of a government report that blames UK business leaders for low levels of staff engagement.

Figures released this week from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) survey of 135 managers in the health and social care sector, also show that 68 per cent claimed that the office Christmas party is important to recognize employees’ hard work during the year, and 66 per cent said Christmas celebrations should continue in spite of the recession.

The survey also found that health and social care managers are concerned about responsible reward and celebration and public perception; 60 per cent of them said that an expensive Christmas party might send out the wrong message, and half of them said a “team lunch is better than an organisation wide party”.

In some respects, employee engagement is a relatively modern term for “morale”; it combines the idea of job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Engagement takes into account how a person feels about their job and the organization they work for, and whether for example, they feel good enough about them both to invest their “discretionary effort”. An engaged workforce is one whose motivation is aligned with the goals and mission of the organization.

Ruth Spellman, chief executive of the CMI, told the press:

“The benefits to organisations of employee engagement cannot be understated. A truly engaged organisation can expect to experience high levels of staff loyalty, retention, productivity, innovation and profitability as well as low levels of absenteeism.”

Commenting on the survey’s findings she added:

“There are too many examples showing that the poor quality of management and leadership in the UK lies at the heart of the disengaged workforce.”

Spellman explained that the survey shows that end of year celebrations are clearly still important to those who work in health and social care, but it also raises an interesting dilemma for UK organizations.

“How can employers say ‘Thank You’ without incurring the wrath of the wider public? The answer is that employee engagement has never been as important as it is now, but it must come hand-in-hand with a tighter grip around the purse strings,” urged Spellman.

The CMI survey found that across the health and social care sector, employers are being cautious about how much money is spent on the Christmas festivities.

48 per cent of health and social care managers said they were happy to allow time off to attend a Christmas party but would not pay anything towards it, while 34 per cent said they have agreed to contribute up to 40 pounds a head.

The CMI survey of health and social care managers contrasts sharply with the results of another report that found 42 per cent of UK small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are planning to save costs by not having a Christmas party this year and 46 per cent said they will not be paying a Christmas bonus to their staff.

The report, from uSwitchforbusiness.com, an SME price comparison and switching service, found that 58 per cent of SMEs said they had been forced to cut costs this year, and only 33 per cent said they had not reduced staff perks.

Last year, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) commissioned employee engagement specialist David MacLeod and Nita Clarke, director of the Involvement and Participation Association, to take an in-depth look at employee engagement and to report on its potential benefits for organizations.

The Secretary of State for Business, Lord Mandelson, wanted them to explore whether practising more engagement could increase the nation’s competitiveness and performance, and help the UK meet the challenges of increased global competition.

MacLeod and Clarke concluded that the answer was an unequivocal yes, and their report describes how since Autumn 2008, they have seen many examples of organizations where performance and profitability have been transformed by employee engagement, quoting employees whose working lives have been transformed, and citing studies that found clear links between engagement and performance, and how improving engagement enhanced performance.

“Engaging for Success: enhancing performance through employee engagement.”
David MacLeod and Nita Clarke.
Published by Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, July 2009.

Sources: CMI; Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD