Employee Engagement – Learning from our October Session


In this post, we are recapping some of the lessons learned at our October session on

employee engagement. Managing remote employees, effective employee recognition, dealing with mental health in the workplace were all important discussions. We polled attendees to provide additional insight with respect to what is happening in Calgary.


Employee engagement is a hot topic these days and trying to figure out what contributes to engagement – or disengagement – and how to improve employees’ engagement occupies many business owners.


We all know that there is more to retaining employees than a paycheque, but how do you become an employer of choice, and how do you articulate your value proposition to attract the right type of employee who aligns with your mission, vision, and values?


At our recent client session, we tackled this topic with the help of Jan Nighswander, Dayna Morgan, Jennifer Kirby, and Theresa Jumpsen. Their bios are included below for context.

Just over half of the companies in attendance indicated that they are currently conducting engagement surveys in some format. But according to Jan Nighswander, many employers have trouble interpreting the results of these surveys.


Many organizations ask why results are going down, but they seldom ask why employee engagement seems to be increasing. Trying to determine the root causes for changes in engagement levels is important in terms of identifying what is working and what is not.

Remote Employees

A whopping 85% of respondents indicated that they currently allow some or all employees to work remotely. And younger generations coming into the workforce have a greater expectation for this type of flexibility.


Remote workplaces can be very cost effective, and employers are sometimes able to draw from a broader talent pool if they need a particular skill set with their ability to draw from employees that come from further afield.


But as we all know, remote workplaces present some unique challenges for employee engagement. Loneliness, difficulty collaborating, and establishing guiding principals for this work are all challenges that employees and employers identify.

  • Have a remote work policy in place. This includes a regular check-in process. It’s important to communicate up front how often you’re expecting to touch base, as well as what kind of reporting you expect from each employee.

  • Establish trust with your team. Once you have established expectations, then it’s important to trust your team. If remote workers deliver on the work required and meet deadlines, then becomes easier to maintain the relationship. Employees report increased satisfaction and mental health when trust in these relationships is present.

  • Choose employees who are in line with your company culture and values. If employees aren’t going to be “bums in seats,” then it can be more difficult to ensure that employees are representing your company according to your brand. Working interviews might be an approach you can use to see how someone fits in with your company culture before offering a position.

  • Combat loneliness. Employees working remotely on a full-time basis can fee very disconnected from their workplace. Establishing up front how often employees are expected to get together, and reinforcing the importance of in-person team meetings, team building events, or other social experiences can reduce feelings of isolation.

Employee Recognition

Only 32% of companies in attendance reported having a formal employee recognition program in place.


Whether employee recognition is done as part of a formal program or in a more casual context, letting employees know that they are important to your organization, and celebrating the actions they take that contribute to organizational success is critical.


According to a UK study, 62% of employees reported that they never, or hardly ever felt appreciated by their boss.

  • Human-to-human connections: Good recognition is about human-to-human connections. Jan Nighswander pointed to a company she worked with that implemented a costly recognition program where employees were able to select from an array of rewards and gift cards at specific points. Things went awry when the cards were delivered via inter-office mail. Employees later reported that they just wanted their boss to tell them they were doing a good job.

  • Peer-to-peer recognition programs are gaining traction in small and large organizations alike. Opportunities for employees to tell one another what they appreciate or noticed about something a co-worker did can be extremely meaningful. Attendees at our session indicated that they have a weekly habit of sending out kudos on their company chat platform such as Microsoft Teams, Yammer, or Slack to fellow colleagues to celebrate successes or efforts.

  • Automatically debriefing after a project’s completion provides an opportunity to review what went right with a project and look at opportunities for improvement in the future. Dayna Morgan indicated that this “in the moment” feedback frees up a regular review or check in with members of your team for a goal-oriented, future-looking meeting rather than rehashing things that may not have gone well in the past.

Recognition need not be the exchange of physical things like watches. Recognition can help reinforce your company’s culture and values and celebrate how those things are exemplified every day.


Mental Health

The World Health Organization reports that they expect depression to be the most commonly diagnosed illness within the next ten years.


With 70% of disabilities rooted in mental health today, employees and companies are struggling with how to address issues – if they are able to identify issues that crop up.

Most companies do not provide training to managers to effectively identify and deal with employees struggling with mental health issues. Only 26% of our attendees indicated that they provide some kind of training. But training is available in this area:

  • Mental Health First Aid, a course by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, aims to assist managers or other members of the public provide help to a person developing a mental health problem, experiencing the worsening of an existing mental health problem or in a mental health crisis. You can find a course through their website, and they also publish this handy guide for managers.

In general, our panelists reinforced that it is important to focus on employee behavior rather than moving into “solve the problem.” Directing the employee to appropriate resources to find qualified support is an important first step.


At the same time, it’s important to recognize that employees who are struggling with personal lives can end up affecting the productivity of all employees in the organization.


Areas of Focus for 2020

We asked participants what areas of employee engagement they are planning to focus on in 2020.


As Alberta’s economy continues to adapt to new economic conditions, it’s clear that the focus is less on “total rewards” and more on ensuring that the culture, work environment, and functioning of the team will take precedent.

Meet our Panelists

Theresa Jumpsen, CPHR | Theresa’s 25+ years of work experience spans both employment and consulting in the human resources, career transition, and employee development fields in a wide variety of local and global industries. Known for her collaborative relationships and innovative strategies, Theresa’s strengths include exceptional planning skills, facilitation, coaching and mentoring, and organizational and individual performance improvement.


Theresa leads the Corporate Services team responsible for HR and Operations, as well as supporting the People & Culture line of business in delivery of HR and coaching services for Tricon Solutions, a Calgary-based HR consulting firm.


Dayna Morgan, COO + Innovation Designer| Dayna is a connector, bridging the gaps between people, process and ideas. She oversees business operations, making our company's vision a reality. As a continuous learner with a fascination on innovation, she is always looking for ways to do and be better. As a leader in her organization, Dayna focuses on strategic business development, value-add innovation, and refining process and systems at BRITT Land & Engagement.


Jan Nighswander, CPHR | Jan brings over 30 years of experience in Alberta’s energy industry, private health care businesses and management consulting practices. Jan works with leaders to develop practical HR strategies, create dynamic employee engagement, and communicate with purpose to fuel their long-term business success. Her firm is called Nighswander & Associates.


Jennifer Kirby, BA, CFP, CHS, CLU, GBA | Jennifer is a principal at Vital Partners. With over 20 years of experience in benefits and insurance, Jennifer works with organizations in a wide range of industries. She specializes in tailoring innovative benefits programs for organizations and in making ongoing benefits management a stress-free experience.