Foster a thriving workplace

  • 4th July 2024

Navigator Law’s HR business partner Ruth Gladwell offers advice on the importance of engaging positively with employees


In our workplaces, employee engagement and relations are linchpins of establishment success. There is a symbiotic relationship between the two and how they can collectively foster a thriving work environment.

Employee engagement – the heartbeat of productivity

Employee engagement is the emotional commitment that employees have towards the establishment they work for and its goals. It’s the driving force that leads to discretionary effort in one’s work. Engaged staff are enthusiastic, motivated, and willing to go the extra mile. They are the ones who will innovate, drive change, and hopefully progress into leadership roles and significantly contribute to success.

What are the steps to obtaining successful engagement?

Communicate transparently: Regular, honest communication builds trust and keeps staff aligned with your school’s culture and values. Senior leaders should support their team by setting the standard in their own communication, providing clear expectations and guidelines, outlining what information should be shared, when it should be communicated, and how it should be delivered.

Actively seek staff feedback. There are two reasons for doing this:

  1. Don’t assume you know what staff want, and
  2. Demonstrate that staff opinions matter to you.

A key piece to remember – if you are seeking feedback, and get it, then act on it. If feedback is returned and never seen or heard of again it will be extremely hard to reach out again and expect worthy responses.

There are various times you can obtain staff feedback on their engagement that are far more valuable than waiting until an exit interview. Consider new hires – if you notice an increase in leavers during the first year or two, you may want to check your selection and recruitment processes. Actively reach out and try to obtain feedback at the various stages of a staff member’s relationship with you. Perhaps start with the following timetable: the first few weeks, around the mid-probation period, and again at the end of the probation period.

Outcomes of this approach are likely to return results of whether the job description and person specifications are a match in the working environment, rather than what you or the staff member imagined it might have been during the advertising and selection process. What’s the staff member’s view at the ‘mid probation’ period, do they know they are on the route to success or otherwise? Finally at the end of the probation period, how has the pass of their probation period been celebrated? If the probation period has been extended, do they know what to do to achieve success? Obtaining feedback at this early stage not only provides the school with feedback on key processes at the inception of the employment lifecycle but demonstrates the level of engagement that the school operates with staff which is likely to lead to continuing open dialogue and positive employee engagement.

Traditional annual performance reviews are being replaced by more frequent, ongoing feedback mechanisms. Such mechanisms may include regular ‘check-ins’ across the staff group, utilising digital platforms designed for feedback and performance management, holding project debriefs or retrospectives, and notably, 360-degree feedback which is becoming particularly relevant for senior leaders. These approaches allow for real-time communication facilitating growth, development and correction where needed.

As part of any ‘employee voice’ strategy you operate you may include staff engagement surveys. Consider the various surveys you can operate, for example an annual survey regarding staff benefits may be quite lengthy to compile and complete, and challenging to review. Pulse surveys are shorter engagement surveys, produced at regular intervals during the school year, and can measure more tangible areas at specific points in time.

Whether choosing an annual or interim ‘check the pulse’ survey, really focus on the areas you want answers on and consider how you ask the questions. Provide prompts, multiple choice questions and do allow the opportunity for staff to express themselves with free text responses. Provide returns to the wider staff community when you say you will and act on the responses.

Recognise and reward

Where leaders actively acknowledge individual and team achievements it boosts morale and provides for a continued focus on productivity. While using an inset day [In-Service Education and Training day] to note the various contributions made more publicly, smaller gestures, such as an individual email to recognise how a staff member provided a tour to a visiting parent and future pupil, will have a direct impact on the pupil and parent experience going forward.

Provide growth opportunities

Career development programmes show staff they have a future with you. If you start the engagement early, for example, by celebrating successful ends to probation periods, then you can build on further strategies to maintain this engagement process throughout the employment lifecycle. Next steps could be to understand what staff seek regarding opportunities for growth and development in their longer-term careers with you.


The interplay between staff engagement and relations is critical for your establishment’s culture and growth. Where staff consider that they are listened to and have the space to communicate, employee relations challenges are likely to remain at the informal resolution stage. Fostering this kind of environment will begin to create a vibrant culture that attracts talent, retains valuable staff members, and ultimately goes a long way to support staff in seeking to deliver outstanding performance. The pupil experience is delivered by your greatest asset, your staff, and investing in them is investing in the future.

Ruth Gladwell
(Photo: ©Lesley Donald)

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