The People Table and Employee Engagement

The People Table and Employee Engagement

The People Table had a problem to tackle – the City hadn’t performed well in the 2012 employee engagement survey. In 2014, some departments and service areas had made positive strides, but others had been less successful so the overall picture hadn’t actually changed all that much. “Must do better.” Agreed. So, where to start?

Through the GuelphLab, the Table was able to tap resources at the University and access a researcher. They had a number of questions they wanted to answer before they started to think about possible solutions to “their” problem – what do we mean when we talk about engagement? What do we think improves or undermines engagement? And there were many others. The researcher – in this case a graduate student working through U of G’s Research Shop – was tasked with reviewing existing research to see how different academics answered these questions.

Here are some of the highlights from what he found:

  • one paper suggested that workplaces with high levels of trust don’t actually need to formally regulate employee’s behaviour as much
  • receiving feedback about performance is important but who provides the feedback isn’t necessarily – it could come from a supervisor, but peers and other teams members, or even clients/service users (citizens) are equally effective
  • accountability can be external and formal but it is also personal and internal – we can be held accountable for our work (by someone else or through formal policies) but we can also hold ourselves accountable

The results of this work were an important reference point for the Table. Each member of the table had their own experience to draw on – that was another reference point (probably the most significant one). And, the City’s Human Resources department had experience as well as expertise and were working on different initiatives already. They were a resource and third reference point.

Integrating Knowledge

The key points are that:

a) complex (“messy”) challenges like employee engagement often need to bring together different kinds of knowledge (experts AND those people “living it,” theory AND practice), and

b) partnerships between the City and University can be a great way to do it.

In the world of universities, this is called “community-engaged scholarship” and the best examples generate value for the “community” and the University: in meeting a community need, students are able to build new skills and faculty can create new research knowledge with a focus on community problem- solving.

In Guelph, the University and the City actually have a long history of working together in this way. City staff have worked with faculty and students to answer questions on everything from recreational resources, home retrofit programs, older adult strategies and municipal budgeting processes, to clean water technologies, transit policy, digital services and community well-being. (Supporting these kinds of partnerships is one reason the GuelphLab was created).

Project Partner(s): 
City of Guelph