Interview: Emma Pinker, General Manager, London Vision Clinic, on employee engagement

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Emma Pinker is General Manager of the London Vision Clinic, a laser eye surgery clinic. The company was recently included on the 2013 Best Workplaces List [PDF, 5.68MB] from Great Place to Work for their commitment to employee engagement. 

Download our academic-led employee engagement toolkit, produced in association with Great Place to Work.

1. What does employee engagement truly mean at the London Vision Clinic?
To us, employee engagement is when employees are passionate, enthusiastic and happy to work at our clinic.

2. You say that your internal culture has allowed you to defy the recession. Can you elaborate on how this works?
We believe that happy employees lead to happy patients. Our unified aim is to provide patients with an experience that supersedes the expected standard level of service and we believe that the only way to do this is to ensure that our employees are not only engaged but also feel a connection with the clinic. During the recession, we aimed to ensure that our staff felt secure, happy and connected with our organisation.

In addition to providing them health and dental benefits, monthly staff night outs and anniversary bonuses, we allowed our staff the opportunity to develop their skills in the workplace by enrolling in part-time courses and conferences.

3. What do you think is the most successful engagement initiative you’ve introduced and, crucially, why has it worked so well?
It has to be the Team Building Day that we run once a year. This was introduced in 2010 and involves a half-day clinic. The clinic departments will be placed in a mix of different teams prior to the day and they will immediately start with coming up with a team name and theme. Each team is given a set of 20 tasks and clues/riddles to solve together. A time frame is normally given and teams need to photograph evidence or perform various tasks to obtain points. The themes involve London landmarks and history so not only do they work as a team but also get to explore and learn about the city as well. The team with the most points win. Needless to say, there is a great level of competition, team building, laughs and many memories made on the day of this event and to date, I believe it bonds the team and brings them closer together.

4. There’s a big emphasis on employee socialising at the London Vision Clinic. Can this create problems when it comes to differences of opinion?
No as differences of opinion is encouraged in our organisation. We have staff from over 12 countries and everyone has a different background. If anything, I think it works to our benefit that we all have different opinions.

5. If staff hit a yearly target you take them away for a long weekend, last year to Las Vegas. What’s the thinking behind this scheme? Are there cheaper ways to create a culture of engagement?
We wanted to provide staff a memorable and unique experience that is different and can be enjoyed together as a team. Yes, there are cheaper ways of doing this but we already do most of them. (examples, team building, staff night outs, anniversary bonuses, health benefits, pension scheme, birthday cakes)

6. Your targets are around customer referrals. Is there a natural link between this style of marketing and creating an internal culture of engagement?
For us there is definitely a natural link between customer referrals and employee engagement. Our biggest source of referrals comes via word of mouth and we believe that what makes us unique is our ability to go above and beyond the normal call to provide exceptional patient care.

7. To what extent does employee engagement at smaller firms differ from engagement at larger companies? Is it more difficult?
There will be budget restraints on what a small company can do as opposed to a large company but a smaller company will be able to connect with staff on a more personal level. Employee engagement would be easy to implement if it is organic and genuine. At London Vision Clinic, we had it implemented from the start so employee engagement and happiness of our staff is part of our internal culture so based on that, I think it would be harder for a larger company to introduce and implement it than it would be for a smaller company based on the connection they will be able to have with each and every staff member.

8. Engagement often requires buy-in from senior leaders. How does London Vision Clinic ensure its senior executives throw their weight behind employee engagement initiatives?
Our senior executives definitely do their part with this. The thinking behind the way to work and the way we treat our patients all come down to the vision they had and this has, in turn been reflected to how employees do. Their open-door policy enables everyone to be comfortable with each other and they actively think of ways in which we can improve our engagement. Las Vegas is a great example. They are always thinking of ways to improve not only our patient’s journey but also the employee journey within the company.

9. Trust is recognised as one of the drivers of engagement. What does ‘trust’ mean for London Vision Clinic? How do you go about delivering it?
Trust is something that needs to be built over time but at the same time it can be lost. Think of it as a relationship and like any other relationship it needs to be maintained and managed. It is not easy because of this as it’s highly emotional and is often challenging because you need to be vigilant all the time.

About Jamie Lawrence

Jamie Lawrence, HRZone

Jamie Lawrence is editor of global online HR publication and community HRZone.com. He is committed to driving forward the HR agenda and making sure that HR directors have the knowledge and insight necessary to make HR felt across the whole organisation. He regularly speaks to audiences of 250+ and has interviewed key HR industry names, including Daniel H. Pink. He has worked previously as a small business journalist and a copywriter and has published non-fiction that reached #2 on the NYT Children's Bestseller List. In his spare time Jamie likes writing fiction, films, fitness and eating out.

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