Real business story

Double-down on employee engagement during difficult times

Employee engagement is rooted in culture and communication. How leaders engage with staff on a daily basis can have a huge impact on performance and productivity across the business.
Hyde & Co founders

The founders of Hyde & Co believe honesty in the best policy, even in the face of uncertainty

In the hospitality industry, it’s been a challenging few years.

Keeping employees engaged in difficult circumstances isn’t easy, but one business learned some powerful lessons from the experience.

It’s okay to be honest with staff

Many leaders struggle when it comes to communicating bad news to staff. As a result, it’s common to keep it under wraps or make it look more positive than it is.

The problem is, this won’t do anything to maintain or improve employee engagement. A lack of communication when staff need it most can result in rumours spreading. Often, it’s best to be honest – even if that means admitting you don’t know what’s going to happen.

Hyde & Co co-founder Nathan Lee runs seven bars and restaurants with 150 staff. It isn’t always easy to maintain a good level of communication in busy workplaces.

He’s found that honesty is the best policy with his employees, although it’s still a hard line to walk.

“Engagement is difficult. Communication has been key otherwise people’s imagination goes wild. If you can’t answer something, you need to be honest. We treat staff as a family – if things are a bit shit, it’s okay to tell them that.

“It’s a fine line between being really positive and making sure people are pushing for more business, which is my nature, and at the same time, if there’s uncertainty, saying we don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Nathan.

“Communication has been key otherwise people’s imagination goes wild. If you can’t answer something, you need to be honest.”

Nathan Lee, co-founder, Hyde & Co

It’s powerful when leaders get hands on

As the company’s grown, Hyde & Co has built a management team and Nathan’s been less and less involved in the day-to-day operations.

However, he’s recently taken on a more hands-on approach. Seeing leaders get their hands dirty can do a lot for engagement and it’s good to remind staff that everyone’s working towards a common goal.

“I was a waiter and restaurant manager before all of this, so I find it much harder to be an owner and just walk around saying ‘hello’ to people. I like to lead from the front.

“It’s good that that’s in our makeup. I’ve made sure I’m working with staff to see everyone. It’s all hands to the pump,” he said.

Gallup research revealed that the most memorable recognition comes most often from an employee's manager (28 per cent), followed by a high-level leader or CEO (24 per cent). Working alongside staff provides a natural opportunity to give that feedback.

Don’t forget to celebrate success

Celebrating small wins is key if you want to increase and maintain engagement. Your employees need to be reminded that their hard work directly contributes to the success of the business.

Hyde & Co runs annual company-wide celebrations and events for individual sites. It’s got harder as the company has grown but celebrating success is important to Nathan.

“I can’t wait to get everyone together again. We will look back and think ‘that was a crazy time, but we got through it and showed how resilient we are’ and everyone will be more focused on what they want from their jobs and lives.”

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  • location: South West (England)
  • business size: 100-249 People
  • business type: Hospitality & tourism

Top three takeaways

Keeping staff informed, even if you don’t have all the answers, helps keep them engaged

Seeing leaders at the coal face galvanises teams

Remind employees that they contribute to the company’s success