Nicholas Wardle, head of employee engagement and communications at One Housing, is on a mission to increase the focus of employee experience – within his own team and in the wider internal comms profession.

29th July 2021

Many businesses tend to just let employee experience happen. Imagine if you let customer experience just happen.


Employee engagement, employee experience… You might think they are one and the same, but there is a difference. If employee engagement is – roughly speaking – the understanding and interest employees have in a company’s purpose, employee experience is all the interactions and touchpoints employees have with the brand to get them to that point.

No business would dismiss the importance of customer experience, but Nicholas Wardle, head of employee engagement and communications at One Housing, believes too many companies neglect employee experience.

Nicholas co-created the Employee Experience Opportunity (EXO) and is one of the authors of a new book, Monetising the Employee Experience, with the dual aim of giving employee experience (EX) parity with customer experience and highlighting how investment in this area can improve productivity, innovation, reputation and talent attraction and retention.

Driving positive change is part of Nicholas’s personal working ethos too. He worked in comms for a county council and local government before, in 2018, joining One Housing, which creates affordable homes and provides personalised care and support to vulnerable people. He has always leaned towards organisations with a social purpose, but it’s not his only consideration.

“My main desire is to make a difference,” says Nicholas. “If I was a football manager, I wouldn’t want to work with Manchester City or Bayern Munich, because they win all the time. They have the best players and equipment. I’d much rather take a team battling for relegation. That’s where I get a kick – upskilling people, improving channels and building the reputation of the IC team.”


You joined One Housing in 2018 to help launch a major business transformation. Where did you start?

The first thing we did was an internal communication and engagement review. Evidence is important. The result of that was three main issues: people weren’t hearing enough from senior leaders; communication wasn’t reaching the front line effectively; and people couldn’t access information on the go. That informed our comms and engagement strategy.

At that point, we had an intranet, but there was no way to comment. It was just top down. So we launched Workplace by Facebook after extensive research.

Workplace has been a big help, especially during the pandemic. At the start, when there were rumours that lockdown could happen overnight, our message was to check Workplace before you leave for work in the morning. And it worked, as we had about 90 per cent of employees checking Workplace at that time. When the news broke one evening that office-based employees had to work from home, we posted it on Workplace and no one came into the office the next day apart from the people who needed to.

We introduced executive roadshows, twice a year, where the chief executive and executive team go out to our frontline operatives. We do pulse surveys, which are a good way to track and measure engagement. We have certain core questions, including, do you feel up to date with what goes on across One Housing? That had previously scored quite low, but is now always around 80 per cent.

We also launched an Ask Richard inbox, where anyway can email our CEO [Richard Hill] a question. Richard had only been in place for six months when I joined, and in that time had been very busy operationally. But I had evidence from the review: clearly people don’t hear enough from leaders. If I’d just said, ‘My opinion is this’, it wouldn’t have carried as much weight as what employees were telling us. He’s a businessman. If there’s evidence that there’s a need for something, he’ll do it.


What comms challenges does the housing sector face?

It’s not specific to housing, but two-thirds of our employees don’t sit at a desk. We have care workers in homes, employees in homeless shelters, operatives out fixing boilers. That adds a level of complexity. You need to take time to understand your people. We did a survey, as we could reach lots of people fairly effortlessly, but we also interviewed face to face about 30 to 40 people at different levels, from the CEO to frontline employees, and asked, what is working life like for you?

One of the things that came out of that research was our cascades to line managers. You are always going to get a handful of people saying they don’t want to look at Workplace, or Yammer, or read emails – especially frontline workers, who don’t work from the head office. If your line manager tells you something, you can’t miss it.


You co-created the Employee Experience Opportunity with Mike Sharples, CEO of Brand Experiences. Why did you see a need for this?

Over the years, we’ve seen a lack of investment in employee experience. A lot of employee experience tasks are add-ons to another role. If it’s important, it demands attention. You can make a million pounds through customer experience, but you can also save that much if you motivate your people to be more productive.

For employees, the experience can be your induction, learning and development, and internal comms. Many businesses tend to just let employee experience happen. Imagine if you let customer experience just happen.


What employee experience approaches have you introduced at One Housing?

We piloted – and we’re about to further roll out – a tool called mojo, which is a platform powered by Motivational Maps. You fill in a survey and the results display what motivates you and you get a score for how important they are to you and how satisfied you are that they are being met at work.

It’s helped with line management. Over Teams or Skype, it’s easy to ask how someone is, but do you ask if they are really OK? This tool can tell you if there is, say, a dip in how people feel about workplace relationships and networking, so you can respond to those results and have more check-ins and conversations about wellbeing and performance. That’s a good way to personalise the employee experience.


What skills do IC teams need to step up their employee experience game?

Part of it is about professionalising internal communication a bit more, which IoIC is doing.

IC needs to move away from the fluffy stuff. We need to think more about how what we do impacts the bottom line. That’s the be all and end all. We’re still thinking too much about getting a seat at the top table.

And who cares about clicks and likes apart from your ego? If 100 per cent of your audience clicks on an internal comms story, but you don’t get the behaviour change or people don’t sign up to whatever you’re promoting, the story has failed.


Why is it becoming more important IC adds this string to their bow?

With the advent of internal social media, it could be argued everyone is an internal communicator. At One Housing, anyone can write a story on Workplace or post a comment, a shout-out or a blog.

One of the four engagement enablers from Engage for Success is employee voice. It’s important to encourage two-ways comms, listen to employees and give them respect as adults to post stories in their own way. But it means that leaders, who are looking to reduce costs due to the pandemic, are going to look at IC teams and ask, do we need all these people? What else can they offer?

We need to get on board with this early. Most organisations haven’t defined employee lifecycles and journeys. Few will have empathy maps and archetypes. Internal communicators can drive this stuff.


How do you get your insight around what makes a great employee experience?

Define the lifecycle stages: attraction, onboarding, through to exiting. From there, drill down and think of the moments that matter and assign relevant people to be responsible for those. Organisations should have a core EX team of people from HR, learning and development, possibly talent attraction, definitely IT, as they provide the tools and technology, and internal comms is pivotal.

And you need a cross-section of people from across the organisation who have been through those moments. One of our gas engineers will have a different first day at work to someone who works in a care home. You don’t create just one first day at work – you have many, based on your personas.

Talk to people in all departments. Face-to-face interviews are gold. Those who do the work know it best. Get them to share what things are like and ideas for improvement. That’s how internal comms can build the business case for this to happen.


What does the business case look like?

It’s down to the return on investment – and senior leaders love those big figures. We deliberately called the book Monetising the Employee Experience. I don’t think IC thinks enough about average revenue per employee. You want to claw back more than you spend on them. If an employee earning £100,000 a year is only 50% motivated, they are 50% productive and you are only making £50,000 out of them. Multiply that by how many employees you have, and you are losing a lot of money.

One tool we recommend is the Brand Experiences ROI calculatorTM. You input some figures – number of employees, average salary, revenue, churn rate, recruitment costs, sickness rate, costs per day – and it comes out with a figure for lost opportunity capacity. So if you can focus on improving motivation or productivity or reducing sickness absence by one day per person, imagine what you can save.


You were named internal communicator of the year at IoIC’s national awards in 2020. Why do you think you won?

There were two parts to the nomination form: one was for the work at One Housing, and the other was for volunteering work, including for IoIC London, EXO and Engage for Success. That shows commitment to internal comms.

For One Housing, a lot of it was to do with the impact of the business transformation campaign. We were working on something like 120 different projects. We delivered a lot of work in a short space of time successfully. When we do a project, we email our internal customers afterwards to ask how we did, and the satisfaction rating was high at 90 per cent.

Some of it was about how well we work together as an IC team. I’m keen that those in my team can do everything I can do. They can write IC strategies as well as I can. They own significant projects. And we are all able to look beyond the metrics. As an IC team, you need to show the value in your business case and the impact you can have on the bottom line. It’s about being more business savvy.


Hear more from Nicholas Wardle by viewing the IoIC webinar, How internal communication, employee engagement & employee experience fit together.



Many businesses tend to just let employee experience happen. Imagine if you let customer experience just happen.


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