A closer look at employee opinion survey results boosts engagement at Barclays

While results of employee engagement surveys at Barclays UK Retail and Business Banking are positive, a deeper look into the figures found that some concerns were not being addressed by the existing survey. Qualitative data showed that there was a link between engagement and employee wellbeing, and this led to differing performance levels between business areas. The bank is now tailoring its action plans to specific units and locations.

The recent research at Barclays, supported by employee engagement, wellbeing and resilience specialists Robertson Cooper, illustrates the importance of ensuring that positive engagement is underpinned by wellbeing.

Barclays’ approach is centred on a model with the aim of ensuring high, and sustainable, levels of employee engagement. The following three elements are designed to translate employee engagement into better performance:

  • Commitment – employees’ attachment to the organisation, both a rational cognitive attachment and an emotional one, which translates into discretionary effort behaviours.
  • Performance support – a local work environment that enables productivity and success.
  • Wellbeing – a climate that promotes employees’ physical and emotional health, where mutual support is the norm and there is respect for the needs of the person.

Unearthing the real picture

Barclays carries out well-established, regular engagement surveys, which are run across its business units. The results of these exceed sector norms and also compare favourably to a global high-performance norm group. But, at the same time, qualitative data was also being collected, and the findings from these sources reflected some concerns not exposed by the existing survey.

The bank also wanted to explore the reasons behind staff turnover and absence levels. Barclays has an excellent reputation as an employer but there were concerns that some good people leave before fulfilling their potential. It was hoped that better understanding of wellbeing would provide some new insights to help retain the best people. While sickness absence was not at overly high levels for the sector, there was a desire to more fully investigate the links with wellbeing.

Robertson Cooper’s ASSET survey tool was employed to look more closely into the state of employee wellbeing. The survey asked not only whether or not certain workplace issues were present, but also how troubled by them the employees were. For example, long hours may be a factor that people are comfortable with, while their relationship with their line manager might be unbearable. Tackling the first will therefore not result in any great improvements, but addressing the second will have a dramatic positive impact.

An initial pilot project was implemented across a number of areas within two of Barclays’ main business units. An online survey was made available to employees in these areas for completion over a one month period, and the results were then collated and analysed.

The results

The ASSET pilot confirmed generally high and positive commitment and engagement levels. The survey showed that, while engagement levels accounted for about 16% of the variation in productivity levels, this increased to 24% when psychological wellbeing was included.

A closer examination revealed firstly that, although figures were good, there were significant differences between business areas on some aspects of wellbeing, including: control; balanced workload; job security and change; and job conditions. Recognising this allowed Barclays to tailor any action plans to address specific wellbeing related issues in different business units and areas.

Secondly, relationships were revealed between the results from the ASSET survey and sickness absence levels and performance data. The most significant correlations with sickness absence were with the following items in the “job conditions” scale:

  • Work being too closely monitored.
  • The nature of work being dull and repetitive.
  • The nature of work being unlikely to change.

A large number of respondents were from contact/call centres, where these aspects of the job are particularly prevalent. Often it is “burn-out” that is equated with sickness absence, as continuous high levels of pressure result in stress and emerge as physical and/or mental ill health. In this case, it is “rust-out” (boredom) that is more likely to be the source of the problem. This illustrates the need to ensure that work is challenging; this can be just as important for wellbeing as feeling supported and having sufficient breaks.

Many large organisations make a concerted effort to manage change and enable people to adapt, but it is always worth considering whether or not some employees may be bored as a result of repetitive work and too little change. Barclays can now reconsider job design, or possibly recruitment processes, to improve the nature of the environment and to increase the likelihood of an accurate job/person match. This will also help its goal of improving retention levels.

Brand promise

Finally, the survey results also yielded evidence of the relationship between perceived levels of autonomy and brand advocacy. It seems that ensuring that employees feel empowered to make a difference, and are given the space to do so, means that they are more likely to speak and feel positively about the organisation.

The likely explanation for this is that a strong sense of control inspires a belief that one has the scope to deliver the brand promise to customers. In turn, this can reinforce the extent to which one identifies with the brand on an emotional level.

Concepts such as the satisfaction mirror (Heskett et al.,1997) show that positive interactions at the customer interface strengthen positive emotions for both the customer and the service provider. As well as improving the experience of both client and employee, this is a win-win situation, as it is likely to generate a stronger attachment to the brand for both parties.

Barclays has placed wellbeing in the core of its people strategy and recognises that, to sustain high levels of engagement, employees have to feel healthy and productive with a strong sense of purpose in relation to their work. The benefits of this can prove to be far reaching for the organisation in terms of improved and sustained employee satisfaction and engagement, as well as providing demonstrable business benefits in areas such as customer satisfaction.

The project has demonstrated that understanding engagement and underlying wellbeing can provide a deeper level of insight into the drivers of employee performance and behaviour.

This article is the third in a series on Personnel Today which looks at how data metrics and analytics can support HR strategy. The first article, by Nick Kemsley of Henley Business School, looks at why HR professionals need to use data in a way that combines short term tactical approaches with longer term strategic concerns during a period of economic uncertainty. The second, by HR consultant Andrew Mayo, looks at the different types of data available to HR professionals.

Gordon Tinline is a director at Robertson Cooper. Twitter: Follow Robertson Cooper @gooddayatwork. Hazel Hodgins is head of employee engagement and insight at Barclays UK Retail and Business Banking.


Heskett, J. L, Sasser Jr., W. E., & Schlesinger, L. A. (1997).

The service profit chain: how leading companies link profit and growth to loyalty, satisfaction and value. The Free Press, New York, 1997.

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