Opinion

EDP Best Employer Award case study: Circle Housing Group’s winning employee engagement strategy

Any pressure that Sam Lacey, Group Director of Leadership and Engagement at Circle Housing, felt upon returning from maternity leave quickly dissipated, thanks to being offered the opportunity to work part time by her employer. Not only that, but not long after smoothly sliding back into her role, she got a promotion to her current job.

This story is evidence of Circle Housing’s commitment to its employees who deliver essential front line housing and care services to people in the East of England, London, Surrey and Kent.

Eastern Daily Press ‘Best Employer’ Award

Among the accolades the organisation has won for its approach to responsible business is the Eastern Daily Press (EDP) Business Award for Best Employer. Sponsored by Pure Resourcing Solutions (Pure), the award recognises an employer that demonstrates an understanding of engagement such as keeping teams motivated, capturing workers’ ideas and opinions, and charity support.

Pure is the perfect sponsor of this category; the leading recruitment consultancy firm runs its own Best Employer initiative, which promotes and recognises good employers across the East of England. It includes a festival, survey, seminars and its own awards this October – one month before the EDP awards.

Bringing business benefits

When Circle Housing scooped the EDP award in 2013, it validated the organisation’s approach to putting people the heart of its business. Sam recalls: “Winning the award was fantastic. It helped underpin our mission, and to demonstrate that Circle Housing is a brilliant place to work, and it helped to build a sense of pride among our colleagues.

“This in turn has helped in our recruitment in Norwich, not only attracting more candidates for each role, but a much bigger range and quality of candidates who perhaps before would not have been attracted to the housing sector.”

News of the award was circulated within Circle and each of its sites was encouraged to celebrate and promote the win in its own unique way. Internal communications included a big thank you to everyone involved in the award application, and a web link to the Mustard TV coverage was emailed to everyone’s inboxes.

Engaging staff to help manage change

The judges were impressed with Circle Housing, since despite going through a prolonged period of change, the organisation demonstrated that it is managing the situation well, ensuring that disruption is at a minimum, and that employees are kept informed, involved and that they feel secure.

“Circle Housing recently expanded significantly and quickly, so we need to manage change very effectively,” explains Sam. “We run a number of initiatives to help with this, such as the ‘60 Change Champions’. Staff volunteers receive training to engage with their colleagues to give them a voice during the change process, and to provide coaching and support.

“Such projects enable staff to develop and use skills that they may not have had the opportunity to use in their everyday roles, while helping to manage change at work.”

Looking after staff and customers

Circle Housing takes its responsibility for its work with vulnerable people in local communities very seriously. Its customers include people in need of social housing, care and support, so it is essential that its employees on all levels understand the issues involved, and how to engage with customers in the right way.

The business’ development programme, ‘Customers and People at the Heart’, aims to give staff the know-how to maintain positive customer relationships, and to support engagement between managers and their teams. Both are integral to Circle Housing’s mission of enhancing people’s life chances.

Circle Housing also provides opportunities for secondments, paid sponsorship for professional qualifications and its People of the Year Award recognises an employee who truly makes a difference. The organisation also offers flexible and remote working, long service awards, performance-related bonuses, and free counselling and legal advice.

Sam offers this advice to future entrants: “Be authentic. When the judges came to our office, we provided them with a genuine experience. In fact they visited on a Dress Down Friday – we didn’t ask staff to wear suits since we wanted to show the judges the reality of our workplace. Our staff talked to the judges and because they were relaxed, they talked passionately about our organisation.”

Circle continues to aim high

Since winning the EDP award, Circle Housing has succeeded in boosting its Investors in People accreditation, and continues to achieve excellent standards in its employee engagement work. But the hard work is not over for Circle Housing as big changes continue. It plans to support and develop its staff – from apprentices to directors – so it can deliver its crucial services to a high standard despite the deep and ongoing transition.

We would like to wish everyone at Circle Housing the absolute best for the future, and the best of luck to this year’s EDP Business Awards ‘Best Employer’ hopefuls! We look forward to seeing you at the event at the Norfolk Showground on November 6th.