In Focus: Best Companies - Scoring Both On & Off The Pitch

Everyone wants their football club to be the very best – topping leagues, winning trophies, and scoring goals. But what about the team off the pitch – what does it mean to be the best when it comes to a club’s employees? In the following article, we hear from Best Companies, the employee engagement specialists, about how some of their clients in the sector are using engagement to develop their staff, club and culture.



Workplace engagement: what is it and why does it matter?

To put it simply, when people are engaged, they feel connected to each other, as well as the aims of the organisation they work for. This leads to better working relationships, greater collaboration and, ultimately, a more successful business.


An engaged workforce, therefore, is of utmost importance to the football industry, not least after a year of battling with lockdowns, restrictions and the unprecedented challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.


Best Companies has been working with several Premier League football clubs to help them understand how engagement can support them in developing their staff, club and culture by providing actionable and insightful data that gets to the heart of what people want and expect from their working lives.


For Baroness Karren Brady, Vice- President of West Ham United, ensuring the club’s workforce is engaged is top priority. “We’re fortunate to have an incredible workforce at the football club, all of whom take pride and care in everything they do to represent West Ham United,” she explained.


“The Board recognises this too, that our staff are at the heart of the club, so ensuring they are engaged and supported is a key priority.”


Brady says now, more than ever, that this is particularly important, with the club dealing with the wide-ranging impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.


“At West Ham, we are always looking to try and see how we can improve, whether that be on the pitch, or in the offices,” she continued. “Surveying with Best Companies allowed us to see what our staff were telling us about the support they were receiving and then build that into our long-term plans to develop our people and ensure that this is a great place to work.”


What’s in a team?

Findings from Best Companies’ data collected from football clubs that undertook a workplace engagement survey in 2019 and 2020 show that in the football industry, employees place a strong emphasis on the importance of teamwork. But does the importance of team in the playing side of the business help foster a better team mentality in the commercial side? Brady thinks so.


“As a football club, we definitely appreciate the importance of team and togetherness and the impact that can have on the mood and motivations of the individuals,” she explained.


“As we sit here in the middle of December, I do believe that the current togetherness and unity among the squad is something which, in part, comes from the way everyone at the club has pulled together since the start of the pandemic.


“Each and every one of our staff members should feel proud in the part they have played in helping to nurture that feeling, and equally each of the players should be proud of the way they have represented the club throughout this year, as they have been a credit to West Ham and had a real impact on our local communities too.”


Pride and purpose

Indeed, pride is something of a recurring theme across the data collected from the football clubs working with Best Companies. There is a consistent theme that shows statements such as “I feel proud to work for this organisation” and “I believe I can make a valuable contribution to the success of this organisation” resonate with employees – in fact, they are amongst the highest.


This is something that Kim Healey, Director of People, Culture and Wellbeing at Everton Football Club believes brings a number of benefits.


“We are united both behind our team, and as a team. We of course have our club motto Nil Satis Nisi Optimum – ‘nothing but the best is good enough’ – and at the heart of this is the sense of pride that we are doing everything we can to be the best that we can. But it is important to nurture that as much as we can,” she explained.


“We have regular staff awards – the NSNO awards – where our people can nominate colleagues for demonstrating outstanding commitment to our values of family, determination, authenticity and ambition. We also host staff conferences giving employees ownership of what we do as a club, which in turn engenders pride. This builds on the pride nurtured through our staff networks and our project groups, both of which focus on making positive change and shaping what we do as a club. Keeping our people central to that gives them a stake in what we do, a real sense of achievement and allows us all to be the best that we can be.”


Sector challenges

Of course, Covid-19 has presented personal and professional challenges for every sector across the whole of the nation. But Covid aside, how does workplace engagement help football clubs overcome some of the ongoing challenges around retention, recruitment and productivity?


“We have been able to gain valuable insights and as a result of our findings, we were able to share ‘You Said/We Did’ communications with staff, so that they could see how their feedback and ideas have been listened to, considered and implemented,” continued Healey.


“Among other things, as a result of the Best Companies survey, we have enhanced parental leave, introduced flexibility around core working hours, improved internal communications, developed our engagement practices, and gained some really valuable insights that have informed our overall approach.”


Looking ahead to 2021

So, as football clubs continue to adapt and look to build back stronger in 2021, why should engagement be a top priority? Jonathan Austin, Founder and CEO of Best Companies, explained: “For all organisations, the past year has brought challenges like no other, and the sports and leisure sectors are no exception to this.


“Clubs need to build the right foundations to support the hundreds of people working behind the scenes. West Ham and Everton have clearly demonstrated that they have done just that. They are well led and well managed, putting their employees first, which is keeping them at the forefront of all they do. By prioritising employee engagement, their staff feel valued and connected to the Club, which ultimately drives team spirit both on and off the pitch.”




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