In days of old, when people aspired to own a Blackberry, when Amazon was in nappies, and Google a mere concept, when Nokia ruled and Zoom did not have a capital Z, forward thinking companies began looking closely at employee engagement.

Those were the days when ‘Employee of the Month’ awards became rampant, with appropriate glossy photos and an accompanying article in the company news sheet.

Certainly, those awards, along with the proverbial Friday night drinks and the end-of-year bonus, were a step in the right direction along the path of employee reward, and hopefully, engagement, but as with the brick-phone, it was a starting point rather than a complete solution.

Whatever one thinks of the unique Sir Richard Branson, one cannot argue with his business success. He famously said, ‘Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients’.

Until morale improves, all leave is cancelled!

This line of business leadership is perhaps more suited to a Monty Python skit, but at least serves as a starting point at the wrong end of the leadership spectrum.

What then, does taking care of your employees look like?

While employees value and expect proper remuneration, agreed conditions, proper work-place safety, and the usual accoutrements of employment, surveys over many years have shown that, provided the basics are in place, what drives employees most is acknowledgement. This requires that employers genuinely appreciate their employees: their skills, their efforts, their results. However, appreciation needs to further translate into recognition.

While the Employee of the Month award may have been a good starting point, the world, and particularly the business world, has changed dramatically in the last couple of decades.

Flexibility is key

During this time, the demands of the work/life balance have ramped up considerably, as has the commute time. Further, the last year or so of COVID-19 has really forced the issue. In many cases, workplace flexibility has become a tool for survival, but it has also shown what is not only possible, but hugely beneficial: for employee and employer alike.

While many employers may have viewed the provision of a flexible workplace as more of an employee benefit, the reality is that workplace flexibility is now a major management tool to promote productivity. Employee recipients of flexible workplace arrangements, which may include working-from-home, have less commute stress, a degree of freedom with work hours, more quality time with family and community, and as a flow on, better health, less downtime, and greater productivity. This is not a theory, it is proven.

Vastly improved technology, in all its forms, along with generally fast and reliable internet and ease of communication, have all combined to allow this reality of the modern workforce.

A strong business, with sound leadership and quality management, a safe workplace with clearly defined employee roles and expectations – these things are a given, and are the foundations of workplace satisfaction. However, that marvel tool of management, employee recognition, now almost requires that employees’ needs be listened to, and addressed. That said, it is a two-way street, but mutual regard, respect, and understanding between management and staff can be a powerful catalyst to a thriving business.

Combine these traits with the magic ingredient of flexibility, and the outcome is invariably greater than the sum of the parts.