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What happens when alcohol isn't at the centre of staff celebrations?

15 November 2021 by Grant Brummer
Shopping Team A

In recruitment, when you celebrate success, it’s natural to pop corks and start pouring champagne but as Millennials and Generation X progress up the career ladder, that culture is changing. Research from various places shows that these people drink less than previous generations and want to drink less around their working lives. Closer to home, our internal surveys echoed this fact - that’s why our latest incentive involves treating our staff to a luxury shopping trip.

When you’re in charge of a diverse and highly motivated team, getting honest staff feedback is essential if you want to manage them successfully. It can sometimes be hard to hear and often even harder to collect. But if you embed a mechanism for staff to give you regular honest feedback, it becomes another vital business process, like doing your expenses.

Engagement surveys should ask certain questions to identify areas we can improve and are valuable in highlighting issues you may never have even considered. The fact that surveys are anonymous gives people a safe place to talk about their concerns and to suggest ideas on how to improve. There’s even a virtual ‘suggestion box’ for people to test their ideas anonymously. But measuring staff engagement is pointless if you don’t follow up with actions that show you are really listening. We run the same survey every three months so we can see from one quarter to another what progress we are making.

We use the Engagement Multiplier staff survey platform to gather and process people’s feedback on how we’re doing as an employer. We don’t like to boast, but our results have been great – however, there is definitely room for improvement. We use the regular survey to collect anonymous feedback from staff about how the leadership can serve the team better as managers. It’s not just about asking whether they’re happy at work, but how we can constructively improve the culture and make everyone feel included. Recently, an engagement survey told us that staff would like to see more incentives that helped them bond and celebrate success over activities that didn’t centre on alcohol. Naturally, we reacted by organising some.

One of the biggest changes the survey has brought about so far is to our end of year incentive. We’ve usually gone for a posh dinner followed by a bar. In response to the team’s requests, we decided to look for something different this year. We’re going Christmas shopping together – at Bicester Village combined with a long luxurious lunch at The Wolseley Café. This doesn’t mean people won’t be drinking, but it does mean that’s not the only option for fun.

Removing alcohol’s central role in events is about putting people’s needs first: from a generation preferring to be healthier to people dealing with their hidden problems with addiction. And we know incentives that don’t centre on alcohol (we have also tried bowling and daytime karaoke) help us to be more inclusive in a team where some people don’t drink for religious or cultural reasons. We are also rethinking some incentives and socials so they accommodate people with young families, as we have an increasing number of them at Skillfinder.

Today marks the start of Alcohol Awareness Week in the UK, with charity Alcohol Change asking us all to think about how the way we drink affects our relationships with others. We are aware that our industry has always been known as a boozy one and that alcohol has brought about problems for far too many people. It’s part of our culture to help people be the best they can and that’s why as a company we choose to have a healthy attitude to alcohol. We look forward to making more little improvements after the next survey goes out.​