What can we learn from Gordon Ramsay about employee engagement?

Gordon Ramsay’s reputation in the kitchen is that of a tyrant, someone who shouts, swears and is generally pretty unpleasant to his staff. Not necessarily conducive to good employee engagement you might think.

Well, indeed, I would not advocate all the shouting and swearing, but I’ll say one thing for him; he at least says it how it is. No messing about, no lack of clarity, complete understanding about the task in hand and what is expected. Nothing underhand, no hushed whispers – get it all out in the open if there’s a problem.

I’m not saying I particularly like his style, in fact, I’m not really a fan of his and I don’t often watch his programmes, but I happened to catch a programme called ‘Ramsay’s Hotel Hell’ last night, which in a nutshell, parachutes Gordon Ramsay into a struggling hotel business in the US to get them back on the straight and narrow.

Needless to say, the show was pretty cheesy and there was a lot of acting up for the camera. However, it was the perfect illustration of how NOT to do staff engagement. The owner was self-centred, self-serving, thought he knew best about everything (even if he was not an expert) and generally treated his staff with utter contempt and disrespect, to the point where he didn’t even pay them on time.

This was of course a recipe for disaster as far as employee engagement was concerned. Staff were demoralised, angry and had no respect for their boss. One might ask the question, why did they even stay if it was that bad?

Workplace engagement scores in the US are generally low – only about 30 per cent of employees feel engaged at work. However, a recent Gallup survey revealed that more than two thirds of American employees would carry on working if they won the lottery. Even more surprising, when asked if they would change job, or continue in the same role, nearly half said they would continue in the same job.

There could be any number of reasons for people to stay put. Their motivation could be financial, it might be because of an established social network within the workplace, or maybe the workplace is in a convenient location. In the case of the programme I saw last night, I can only assume that the staff had a certain loyalty to the hotel and to the owner despite his awful treatment of them. They had known him a while and realised his current behaviour was related to fear of losing his business rather than rational thought.

Of course, Gordon Ramsay stepped in and saved the day and they all lived happily ever after. But the point was that until Ramsay came along and started opening cans of worms everywhere and provoking all sorts of reactions with his renowned confrontational style, there had been no open, honest conversation on either side of the equation. The owner was in denial about the state of his business and was shying away from facing it. The employees were either to weary or too fearful to say anything.

So, what can Gordon Ramsay really teach us about employee engagement?

  1. Be open and honest with staff at all times – even if the truth is painful, it is better than lying, covering up mistakes and not facing facts. Honesty breeds respect.
  2. Give everyone a voice – give all staff the opportunity to speak and be heard. Employees know their work and the business well – don’t underestimate what good ideas they can have.
  3. Have faith in employees’ skills – trust staff to do the job they’re paid for. Giving people autonomy and responsibility for their own work brings the best out in them.

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