5 Employee Engagement Lessons We Can Learn From Social Housing Providers

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Throughout my joyous sales career at Hive, I’ve been lucky enough to spend quality time with hundreds of organisations of all shapes and sizes.

Open arms and honest conversations have given me priceless insights into the inner workings of ‘high-performing’ organisations, especially those that really are nailing employee engagement and people experience.

But what sectors should we be gleaning ideas and inspiration from? Could it be from trendy tech start-ups? How about premium brand fashion retailers? Or even purpose-fuelled not-for-profits?

I say let’s look at the social housing space; a sector that’s particularly close to my heart and one that deserves a much brighter spotlight of attention.

Why the social housing sector?

Well, the housing crisis in the UK is serious and well documented. Figures from last year show that we’re short of around 4 million homes versus the demand. Developers are simply unable to keep up with the pace of building new homes (National Housing Federation, 2018).

Social housing providers shoulder a lot of this burden, on top of dealing with changes to Government funding & policies and handling an increasing demand for digitisation of their services.

But when it comes to navigating huge organisational and political change, social housing providers put a huge focus on employee engagement – completely understanding the link between exceptional customer and people experience.

Yes, they want to provide tenants with happy, healthy, and accessible homes, but they also take a similar approach to motivating their people, striving to make the workplace feel as stable and as comfortable as home – something every business can aspire to.

Employee engagement in social housing

We spoke to five Hive customer partners in the social housing space to understand their sector-specific people goals and HR challenges for 2019. But as they shared their insights, we realised that studying their engagement methods could provide universal takeaways for any organisation looking to create an engaged, happy and loyal workforce.

So let’s check out the five employee engagement lessons we can learn from social housing providers, courtesy of HR and OD professionals at Saxon Weald, WM Housing Group, Believe (previously CDHG), Hanover Scotland and Your Homes Newcastle:

  1. Designing the employee experience for a diverse workforce
  2. Creating cultural alignment with a considered engagement approach
  3. Connecting fragmented workforces and disconnected services
  4. Setting a pace and process for organisational change
  5. Empowering managers to drive engagement

Lesson 1: Designing the employee experience for a diverse workforce

saxon weald logo

How do you create a unified employee experience when you have a diverse workforce that has very polarised day-to-day duties and needs?

Linda Kawycz, Assistant Director of People at Saxon Weald – a housing association managing 6,500 homes across Sussex and Hampshire – reveals:

“In 2019, we are reviewing the working patterns of our people across the organisation. Saxon Weald wants to ensure our employee experience matches the modern demands of all our workforce and will be engaging employees to make this a reality.

We have a Hive survey plan in place to gather employee feedback around four aspects of employee experience; that’s our (1) Work Offer – from workplace environment to flexible working hours, (2) Digital Experience – how our organisation operates with IT, (3) Employee Wellbeing, and (4) Agile Working. We’re also looking at how we maximise the impact of our employee forum to drive employee engagement and contribution – giving our people both an online and offline voice.”

Lesson 2. Creating cultural alignment with a considered engagement approach

WM Housing Group

When workforces combine as a result of an organisational merger, this can often lead to cultural challenges. Social housing providers, in particular, have been no stranger to mergers in recent years, often with multiple associations merging across regions to become one brand and body.

Michaela Hyman, Learning and Development Manager at WM Housing Group – one of the largest not-for-profit social housing businesses in the West Midlands region – explains:

“We’ve got quite a complex culture here at WM Housing because we are numerous housing associations that have joined together over time. Our people are dispersed across locations and certain areas have different cultural set-ups, which does reflect in our engagement scores.

This September, we are all going to come together as one legal entity, called “Citizen”, but in the lead-up and throughout this change – we want to create better cultural alignment across the organisation through more strategic employee engagement. There have always been employee engagement initiatives running – for example, mental health training and financial wellbeing sessions – but we’ll now be regularly surveying employees to find out exactly what they need to perform at their best, to address any issues in real-time, and to dig deeper into cultural issues such as Equality.”

Lesson 3: Connecting fragmented workforces and disconnected services

believe logo

Like most organisations, the challenge that social housing providers face when trying to improve engagement levels is accounting for service segmentation and fragmentation within their workforce.  

Louise Shillinglaw, Head of People and Organisational Development at believe housing ltd – a large North East housing association, formerly called County Durham Housing Group – said:

“Employee engagement remains a huge priority for believe housing in 2019 – we want to make sure that our people feel clear on where the business is going, know how they can contribute, and have the opportunity to tell us where they think we could do better.

Communication, of course, is the key here but also a challenge, and so we have been working hard to find different ways to engage with our people, especially with those in hard-to-reach roles.

An example of this is our work to improve engagement with our in-house repairs service – who have often felt left out – and overcoming the challenges in communicating with them due to the remote nature of their roles. We’re now doing more to create opportunities for face-to-face engagement and improving our communication with these teams overall. This has included bringing employees into dedicated sessions with managers and giving their input on how we can improve services, plus sharing feedback from customers about the repairs service and believe housing. This is developing the relationship between managers and trades employees, and by putting a greater focus on engaging with employees, we can deliver better services to customers.”

Lesson 4. Setting a pace and process for organisational change

Hanover logo RGB sml

A huge part of being able to effectively implement organisational change is creating cultural readiness across your organisation, which includes finding the right pace and setting the right processes for your people.

Steven Pritt, Workforce Development Manager at Hanover Scotland – Scotland’s leading housing association for older people – said:

“Hanover Scotland is putting a big focus on employee engagement and performance management – reviewing processes, upskilling managers, and bringing in digital platforms to help us measure and improve our approach.

Hive, in particular, has helped us to explore employee engagement issues that we already suspected across sites and services, but while our team had concerns before, we made less progress because there was little process. Now we’re gathering employee feedback, putting action plans in place, and seeing lots of great suggestions being implemented – mainly around communication and collaboration. Business change can be challenging, but we’re setting the right pace and implementing one or two things slowly, rather than trying to be too ambitious.”

Lesson 5: Empowering managers to drive engagement

Your Homes Newcastle sml

What’s common across both the public and private sector organisations is that HR and OD teams are driving employee engagement initiatives, but senior and frontline managers are not always aware of the value of employee engagement or how to manage employee feedback.

In a Hive customer story interview, Lisa Ainscough, Policy and Business Support Officer at Your Homes Newcastle (YHN) – a social housing organisation managing over 26,000 council home properties across Newcastle upon Tyne – shared their team’s approach to engaging employees post-business transformation. This included improving the visibility of senior managers and coaching line managers in effective employee engagement:

“In one of our early Hive surveys, employees told us that they would like to hear more from senior managers and for them to be more visible across Your Homes Newcastle. In direct response to this, we introduced a monthly Corporate Leadership Blog where our executive team and Assistant Directors take turns to tell people a little bit about who they are, what they have been up to, and what’s in the pipeline within their services.  

Employee feedback also indicated inconsistencies in how line managers were engaging team members on a day-to-day basis and in one-to-one meetings. And so to help our managers understand the importance of engagement and the impact this has on productivity, Hive’s People Science team have been running manager workshops – coaching them to feel more confident in analysing and actioning employee feedback while encouraging them to support each other.”

Why does employee engagement matter?

Our incredible customer partners set an example in how organisations can engage a diverse and dispersed workforce, expertly manage change, shape organisational culture, and harness the power of people with influence.

And while this study has certainly been a spotlight on the social housing space, the common thread across all business sectors is that employee engagement matters, that people deserve great workplace experiences, and that getting it right can help to unlock the true potential of an organisation while delighting customers every step of the way.

If you’d like to learn more about effective employee engagement and employee feedback gathering – you can book a Hive intro with a member of my team.

Theo Fitzharris is the Head of Sales at Hive and spends all of his time helping people-focused organisations to create engaging and meaningful workplaces. He loves it. Connect with Theo on LinkedIn.

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