Tom Kay, director of engagement, communication and L&D at Archant, a partner of the Best Employers Eastern Region, explains why company culture is crucial for sustainable growth.

Employee engagement is a bit like exercise. You know it’s good for you, but you never seem to get round to it.’ I forget who once said that, but it’s always stuck with me.

Of course, savvy employers have always known an engaged workforce results in better productivity, customer satisfaction and profit, but for the doubters who needed something more tangible, just look at the pandemic. Never before has the need for robust, focused, loyal employees been more critical.

For Archant, ensuring we could help our readers, clients and communities through the dark days of lockdown and beyond meant our own sense of resilience and team spirit had to be in good shape, and it’s here that our ongoing investment in staff engagement and internal comms came into its own.

Right through lockdown, never a day went by when colleagues didn’t hear from our leaders and what was happening around the business. Newsletters, of course – but we went much further.

‘Hive’, our internal social platform, was electric as colleagues collaborated and shared brilliant ideas for community campaigns that subsequently came to life through our newspapers, and new advertising solutions to bolster the fortunes of SMEs trying to find their way through.

We helped each other too, with an internal sense of community that really was special. Staff posted their ‘Good Mood Food’ video recipes, the ‘Pets Factor’ contest found the cutest staff pooch, positivity playlists boosted productive home working, wellness and mindfulness events maintained good mental health.

My personal favourite was the team who filmed an epic rendition of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. That really did make people’s days!

We built online games where colleagues could battle it out to win daily pizza – its popularity spurring us on to create ‘The Hot Seat’, a big ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’ style production piece filmed on Zoom, with teams raising cash for their chosen charities via quick-fire questions, all accompanied by dramatic lighting and sound effects.

In short, we wanted to do things differently. We put the effort in to show our people they are our most important asset.

And we spoke to them transparently. Sure, everyone says that – but people see through ‘corporate’ authenticity. We made a conscious effort to be honest with our staff. When things got tough, we shared it – and people rose to the challenge.

I genuinely believe we have retained much more talent this past year because they thought: ‘I know where we’re going. I want to be part of the solution. I’m in.’

The results of our efforts? A 97% staff approval rating for our comms and an international engagement award win – against multinationals many times our size.

Plus, in business terms, a 39% increase in the number of active customers per sales head, and the highest ever customer satisfaction levels – both of which translate directly to the bottom line.

Our thanks to staff for all their amazing work came in the shape of a stunning night of recognition, held recently in Norwich. Plus, a bottle of specially distilled gin! Brilliantly designed by our in-house team, its name nicely sums things up – ‘Tribute 21’ – a tribute, in the most turbulent of years, to an incredible workforce.

The Best Employers programme was founded by recruitment specialists Pure and psychometrics experts eras, and is supported by Archant and full-service law firm Birketts.