We are happy to introduce Katie Wan, Eko’s Head of People. Katie believes disengaged staff are a business risk — let’s learn more about her unique perspective and experience from our interview.
Eko: Can you briefly introduce yourself and tell us what drew you to Eko?
Katie: My name is Katie Wan, and I work as Head of People at Eko. I joined back in October 2018.
I was at a medium-large multinational before this, where the People Team alone had over 100 employees. I worked in talent management looking at performance, growth, development and employee retention.
By contrast, my team at Eko has three people which means the scope of the job is different. Previously, I got a lot of satisfaction from being a subject matter expert, but I realized that I wanted more. I was hungry to learn and deep dive into more areas of people management and HR. Eko presented me this opportunity.
I love learning things I haven’t before; I like solving problems and multitasking on several projects at once. What I’ve described is very startup-y, so when the opportunity at Eko came knocking, I made sure I took it with both hands.
Eko: What do you do as Head of People at Eko?
KW: Every day is different, but I see my role as one that comes with two hats.
One is a strategic hat, where I think ahead for the next two to four years about what Eko should look like and what we want to embody from a people perspective. I work towards laying the foundations to make that happen — especially since we’re scaling up.
I think about the culture, the different offices, how we can connect and maintain our identity across locations. I work on promoting greater engagement, performance, and think about how I can facilitate both factors, now, and in the future.
The other hat is an operational one. That’s more day-to-day and covers a suite of HR responsibilities — stuff like training, benefits, payroll, compensation, compliance and contracts.
Eko: How is employee engagement tied to organizational success?
KW: I want to dig deeper into what engagement means to me because I think it is a viral word in my field. To me, engagement should not be confused with satisfaction.
A lot of companies measure job satisfaction asking questions like: “how much do you enjoy working with your colleagues?” or “how’s the culture/ physical environment?”
While those factors are important, engagement for me runs deeper and ties to the work you do.
It’s about how much someone feels like they’re valued, that what they do matters, the overall purpose of their job. It’s about the connection they feel to the overall business performance.
Engaged employees provide a competitive advantage. They’re always looking to improve and willing to adapt; they look for different solutions and give it their best shot.
Eko: What are the consequences of disengaged staff?
KW: I truly believe that if someone cannot connect their work to their department or company performance, they’re a high flight risk.
However, turnover is not the only consequence of demotivation, some people quit, and some don’t. There are quite a few companies out there with incredible Average Length of Stay (ALS), but are under-performing or becoming stagnant.
Why? Because staff get comfortable with their roles — maybe realize that the benefits are great. Or they’re influenced by external factors like commute and job flexibility. These factors may prevent people from leaving.
Leaders need to know that these ‘add-ons’ are good to have, but aren’t the primary purpose of an employee coming to work. If an employee is demotivated at work, they won’t up-skill, or they may become resistant to change.
In today’s marketplace, having a workforce that chooses to settle is dangerous for business.
Eko: Millennials became the largest generation in the labor force in 2017, what are their key ‘engagement requirements’?
KW: There are a couple of strong ‘drivers’ that Millennials have a tendency for.
I’ve spotted this trend increasingly throughout the years; I think it contradicts some Baby Boomer values — it opposes the value around job stability, stable income, and loyalty to one organization. Millennials are more open to changing jobs in pursuit of trying something different and new.
Millennials are looking for more ownership and accountability than ever before. If they feel stagnant, they are more likely to leave because they don’t have the deep-rooted loyalty to the company that the previous generations had.
This is compounded by the fact that job-hopping every few years is not as stigmatized as it was 20 years ago.
Not just professional (career trajectory), but personal too (up-skilling). Put simply, the opportunity for job enrichment. If you have staff that are flourishing, don’t just give them more of the same. Help them learn and push boundaries to do new things. Help them inject new life and vigour into their profession.
Saying “flexibility”, I don’t mean people are looking for unlimited remote work days. This is more about the flexibility in mindset within the workplace for example, being flexible to promote successful working mothers and fathers).
In other words, it’s about having policies that don’t put a barrier between an employee and their work. It shows staff they’re valued and that the organization is a safe space designed to help them flourish.
Eko: Does engagement differ for an office employee compared to a non-desk worker?
KW: From experience, there is a larger focus on growth. Unfortunately, there are reports on the modern frontline staff that show how the opportunities for personal development are rare.
Let’s say from working on the shop floor to becoming head of the aisle, to assistant manager to store manager, and beyond. This type of pathway does not happen enough. Many industries, retail, hospitality, construction etc., believe the frontline is easily replaceable when that’s not the case. That being said, internal promotions still remain a challenge in desk-based orgs.
To combat this, leaders could consider separating their workers into ‘seasonal’ and ‘backbone’. And then invest in their backbone with training and open discussion on career development.
Eko: Say you were overseeing a Millennial-heavy frontline workforce, how would you motivate them?
KW: I would respect them and give them a voice. I’d be extremely communicative.
For example: think about knowledge workers who are opposed to new tools despite their constant interaction with technology. Compare that with the non-desk worker who may not have a technical inclination in the first place.
Communication here is a key motivator. Because for your Frontline workers, the information you directly relay to them is the only touchpoint between them and the organisation.
Consider how people always jump to the worst case scenarios when they’re ill-informed. As a leader, you need to keep communications open to give your staff peace of mind and, as a result, keep them engaged.
Eko: Michelle Daigle, our Head of US Business Development, told us mobile communication technology plays a vital role in raising staff engagement. What are your thoughts on that?
KW: It’s a fantastic tool to bridge the gap between HQ and the frontline, especially if it’s mobile (considering most non-desk workers don’t have email).
Again, it can give employees a voice when they can quickly message you a question or a concern without having to wait for their next shift. It can even streamline processes through centralisation of information, improving decision-making speeds.
Lastly, it compliments the human touch, because mobiles are such a big part of our lives now.
Eko: How do you use Eko to engage staff? Can you give us an example?
KW: Transparency, communication and access to information are pivotal, and Eko helps to engage staff well on these points. For example, I use Broadcasts very frequently to share updates, new policies, and initiatives. I also use Banners for big events to get employees excited. Plus,we house all our company documents and materials within Knowledge Management to make available information at the fingertips of the staff.
All these features work collectively to help to boost staff engagement. Eko also provides leaders/ managers with the tools to manage more effectively, again, impacting employee engagement.
Engagement isn’t always about directly liaising with the employee. It’s also about everything to do with their jobs; it’s about the added transparency, the two-way communications, the feedback-focused culture.
Eko helps employees of all levels get work done, ensure they’re making an impact, and as a result, become more engaged.
Eko: Looking forward, are Generation Z’s technology preferences different from Millennials?
KW: I think this is a really interesting question. There are so many unknowns as we are watching this new generation emerge and flourish.
So much has changed even within the Millennial era of 81’-96’ that I would not feel right saying I have the answer to this question.
AI is still evolving; the job landscape is changing with roles that never existed a couple of years back. Everything is becoming a ‘smart’ device.
So much is happening that I’m sure it will impact Gen Z’s behaviours, preferences, and ultimately how the workplace is shaped. An area to watch out for!