Back to school blues

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a child about to return to school in late August, must be in want of a protractor. Maybe a new ruler as well. Hell, why don’t you throw in a pencil sharpener too, just to be sure. For swathes of households across the country, the start of a new school year beckons. Indeed, these are the same households that have been bombarded with ‘Back to school’ campaigns from about two days after the start of the summer holidays.

And for many of the UK workforce, that same feeling is raising its head. After bank holidays, weeks, even fortnights under a foreign sun, the next week or two signals their own ‘back to school’. And, like many of a school age, it’s a ‘back to school’ they are anticipating potentially without a huge amount of enthusiasm.

Bleak outlook for engagement

Engagement levels at many organisations are unlikely to be at stellar levels – exacerbated by news that many companies are currently hoarding employees, according to the CIPD, and may take drastic action over the next six months if the apparently mythical upturn does not start to gain traction.

The best economic news of recent weeks was an indication from the ONS that the economy declined by just 0.5%, as opposed to the original estimate of 0.7%, in the second quarter. And before we break out the Jubilee (allegedly the source of at least some of this economic weakness) bunting, output is still more than 4% below its pre- recession peak at the start of 2008. That ‘back to school’ feeling might be even more depressing at some of our banking institutions this week with the announcement that many organisations, hit by either Libor, mis-selling or money laundering woes, initiate bonus clawbacks.

The come-down from Olympic fever

And this is the working reality likely to confront many employees as they return not only from holiday but also from a phenomenon that has lifted the country like never before. It is hard to recall an event that has more successfully galvanised the country, be they sport loving or not, than the Olympics. And while it’s to be hoped that the Paralympics have a similar effect, the five-ring party will soon be over.

So how do re-gather ourselves from such a high – a high that has seen the country secure an unprecedented haul of medals, seen the transport system cope surprisingly well with the Olympic influx, seen the magnificent efforts of the games volunteers, seen positive responses to both opening and closing ceremonies, despite Russell Brand, and even seen the sun make a sporadic appearance or two?

How to keep employees motivated?

The post summer return to work (rather like January) is always a major challenge for employers. These remain challenging economic times – despite apparently conflicting statistics (the number of people in work has risen by no less than 201,000 in the quarter ending in June at a time when GDP is contracting). However, in 2012, this return will be potentially more impactful than ever before. Employees’ ‘back to school’ will take the form of an emotional slide from the massive positives of holiday breaks and a magnificently successful Games back into the employment doldrums.

At a time when employers cannot afford major salary rises – pay increases still lag behind even a falling inflation rate – successful and committed employee engagement is critical. Harnessing the positive learnings and experiences of the Games and channelling them back into empathetic and charged working environments will differentiate successful employers from those corporate pencil cases containing blunt crayons, wonky compasses, snapped rulers and a distinct absence of protractors.

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Written by Neil Harrison, head of employer branding & insight, TMP Worldwide

Heading up TMP’s employer branding practice, I have lead major branding projects for organisations such as Unilever, Santander, Telefonica, Pizza Express, HSBC, the MoD, Bank of America and EON. Employer branding is now established as a core offering within TMP and an integral part of our corporate vision. I am also responsible for the delivery of both best practice research-based discovery within employer branding but also new industry initiatives – this includes a major presentation of some bespoke employer branding research earlier this year.

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