Employee engagement – 5 tips to help plan your focus groups

So how many people are adding ‘new year new job’ to their list of resolutions.  Whilst people leave jobs for all sorts of reasons, leaving because you feel disengaged is often a key one.  We all want to feel part of something or at least feel valued for the work we do.  Employee engagement is a big challenge for organisations big and small and measuring this in any real and actionable way is also part of this challenge.

We have done many employee focus groups and consultations over the years, and whilst we can’t wave a magic wand and guarantee the perfect tool for understanding your employee experience we have picked up a few nuggets of knowledge over the years that may help you to explore and develop the best way to consult with your employees.

This blog post is all about qualitative insight – face to face.  Surveys can go a long way to help pin point some areas that are working well or need improvement, especially for larger organisations, but in our opinion, it’s the face to face work that gives the extra actionable insight. Focus groups in particular are a great way to better understand your survey results and can also be robust enough to stand alone.

So here are 5 things we’ve learnt to explore with our clients when planning employee focus groups.

1: Without wanting to offend – in our experience HR departments are not viewed as independent or even approachable by many of the employees we have met. The perception is often one of slight distrust, collusion with management or just not really on the same level as the rest of the employees.   As it’s usually the HR department who are responsible for employee engagement and gathering feedback – this can be a stumbling block when it comes to doing face to face employee research.   However connected you or your HR department feels it is with the rest of the organisations we highly recommend getting an independent organisation in to do any face to face consultation.  Yes of course we would say that – but seriously, it matters. This also means that no one from HR or indeed any other department should be observing any groups – we just want the employees and the facilitator in the room.   (HR are of course a vital group in their own right with their own views and insights so they should certainly be included as participants.)

2: Explore all relationship connections, don’t just assume a structure chart is sufficient – often the sense of satisfaction with the immediate team can be completely at odds with how employees feel about the top management or whole organisation.  It’s important to understand the different layers and how much each level of relationship matters, how each job type interacts with each other and impacts on the employee experience.

3: Part time or contract workers often feel out of the loop or disconnected – if you are running a face to face consultation be sure to include a representative sample of these employees. The difference they make to the running of an organisation can be immense and their comments often provide some really interesting insight about how the organisation works at the grassroots.  We always offer early morning and late evening groups to ensure we capture all grades and roles of employee.

4: Be careful about the mix of groups – you don’t want managers and their direct reports in the same focus group.  Try and keep similar job levels/roles together.  The aim is for each group to be comfortable enough to share honest feedback without conflict!

5: Finally – it’s not always about the work. Having a sense of social connectedness can go a long way to keeping some employees engaged.  Asking about this aspect of work is important – not everyone is focused on a career, sometimes a job is just a job or is just a stepping stone at a point in life. People have different motivations but no one wants to be unhappy at work whatever the reason for being there. That’s not productive or fun for anyone. It is NEVER about the money.