Employee Engagement in the New Normalverse
Just as the way we work continues to evolve with the changing landscape, so has the way we think about employee engagement.
A 2021 survey by Quantum Workplace showed employee engagement rates above 75% in the first quarter of the year, but a continuous slow decline through the summer, with 74% of companies expressing engaged and satisfied employees. As we head into a new year, employee engagement remains a top priority for good reason.
Why is employee engagement so important?
In a 2017 study by Gallup, teams with highly engaged employees were 21% more profitable than those with unengaged employees. Engaged employees also tend to be more productive, perform better, and stay invested in organizations longer.
While company leaders recognize the importance of engaging their workforce, they are also struggling with the challenges of hybrid work and multi-generational differences. Some organizations now have employees from four generations — Baby Boomers born between 1946 to 1964, Gen X born between 1965 to 1980, Millennials born between 1981 to 1996, and Gen Z born between 1997 to 2012 who are just entering the workforce.
As the scope of the employee experience changes, engagement strategies change.
In an extensive report that studied nearly 2 million employees in 73 countries, Gallup outlines these strategies in broad terms including:
- Helping managers become better coaches
- Prioritizing professional development
- Practicing company-wide communication
A solid strategy takes these key points and applies them with a post-pandemic filter to include the nuances of hybrid work culture and the multi-generational workforce.
Employee engagement strategies for Millennials
Core strategy: Help managers become better coaches
Millennials are entering leadership positions, and it’s more important than ever for your HR team to develop employee engagement strategies for them. By 2025, Millennials will make up nearly 75% of the workforce.
Gallup’s research shows that 70% of the differences between teams with high employee engagement and less engaged teams have to do with the manager’s role.
Your managers are responsible for many of the factors that impact engagement, including setting clear expectations and providing feedback.
In fact, research shows employees who receive daily feedback from their manager are three times more likely to be engaged than those who only receive feedback once a year.
That’s why equipping managers to become better coaches is one of the most important things you can do to improve employee engagement. The truth is that even your best employees aren’t always prepared to be strong managers. They need training, support and feedback just as much as your employees do.
Core strategy: Prioritize professional development
According to Gallup, the ultimate goal of employee engagement is the growth and development of the individual. That’s worth repeating. While employee engagement is a key factor in the success of your company, it starts with a sincere commitment to each person.
The most successful organizations invest in professional development because they know employees who feel fulfilled at work stay three years longer on average than those who don’t.
Younger employees crave opportunities to expand their skill sets — 51% of Millennials say they would like to learn a new skill to perform a new work function, compared with 23% of surveyed Baby Boomers who share the sentiment.
When it comes to training, a 2019 report by Workday found Millennials prefer self-directed learning and growth opportunities. The Internet is the Millennial generation’s primary source of information. They understand the value of having entire libraries of information available instantly and have been expected to use that information for personal and professional development.
Millennials want to innovate, and companies that truly believe in employee engagement actively seek ways to encourage innovation and leadership.
Deloitte reports that 78% of Millennials were strongly influenced by how innovative a company was when deciding if they wanted to work there, but most say their current employer does not encourage them to think creatively. A fast way to make a generation that is eager to make a difference professionally and personally is to limit their chances to show leadership skills and develop ideas.
Millennial leaders believe the biggest barriers to innovation were management attitude (63%), operational structures and procedures (61%), and employee skills, attitudes, and diversity (39%). Ways to engage Millennial employees who may be suffering from boredom due to monotony, not being challenged or not feeling valued include letting employees pick their projects, developing incentive or reward programs, and conducting regular surveys for employee input, and putting those suggestions into place.
Millennials are characterized by a high ability to multi-task and thrive on challenges.
They need to feel they have purpose and input in their work in order to find meaning in their jobs.
Employee motivation and engagement strategies in a hybrid workplace
The employee experience is paramount to a company’s success in the hybrid workplace. Nearly half of Millennials said flexibility and adaptability are the most critical employee characteristics for successful businesses. Flexibility and adaptability were critical characteristics in the past few years and continue to be necessary as we move into the coming year.
A recent Owl Labs survey found 73% of full-time U.S. employees returned to the office at least one day per week this year, but almost half indicated they would take a pay cut in order to have the flexibility to work remotely at least part-time. Additionally, 80% said they would be happier if they were able to work remotely on an ongoing basis.
This desire for flexible location and hours is due to younger generations’ desire for an improved work-life balance, as well as the compounding needs that come with the effects of the pandemic on young families or employees with family members affected by COVID-19 who need additional care or support.
Though older generations may be concerned that remote work and flexible schedules can lead to decreased productivity, 90% of respondents to the Owl Labs survey who worked from home said they were as productive or more productive than they were in the office.
Supporting and engaging employees in a hybrid workplace can be as simple as establishing straightforward remote and flexible work policies, adjusting the way employees track their time when working remotely so they receive fair compensation, and investing in workplace technology to keep teams connected and productive.
Strategies to build trust and improve employee engagement
Core strategy: Develop strategic alignment with the C-Suite and practice company-wide communication
Handing off employee engagement to your HR department isn’t a strategy at all. The most effective employee engagement strategies start with a commitment from the CEO and board. This group should agree on the purpose and brand for the organization and communicate it to the entire workforce. Once you have that established, determine what core values are most important to helping you accomplish that purpose and what observable behaviors align with those core values. The executive teams need to model those behaviors and hold managers and employees accountable for doing the same.
Employee engagement strategies won’t be effective if no one knows about them. Your organization’s mission and core values need to be communicated clearly and continually reinforced at every level. Every employee should be well aware of how the work they’re doing contributes to the organization’s larger objectives. They should also be aware of professional development opportunities, volunteer activities and company events where they can connect with others outside of the office.
This transparency and communication intensified at the height of the pandemic, as leaders communicated more than usual and shared more information than in the past. With the workforce scattered to remote offices outside of the corporate hub, leaders engaged in regular communication about topics ranging from safety measures, remote work policies and procedures, and streamlining team productivity, to thoughts related to social justice, diversity and inclusion, and more.
A 2021 Quantum Workplace survey reported a decline in employee trust in leadership, down to 84% in May of 2021 from 90% during mid-pandemic, which could indicate a drop in the level of communication seen during the pandemic. Trust in leadership is a key driver of employee engagement and losing it can lead to employees not feeling valued, not feeling connected to their leadership or their co-workers, and a potential increase in turnover rates.
As your organization grows, it can become more challenging to manage internal communications. This is also when it’s most critical. When employees don’t have a reliable way to receive information about the state of the company, silence can lead to speculation. This can cause employees to become disengaged, which grows into contagious discontentment.
That’s why it’s so important to have a proactive internal communication strategy that uses channels all employees can easily access. Because employees are already overloaded with emails, more organizations are using app-based communications — like the Hummingbird employee experience app.
The app makes it easy to share important announcements, company events or cafeteria menus. Employees also have access to the people, places and resources they need at their fingertips. They can find a colleague, reserve a room, or request services like catering or cleaning.
Building employee trust and engagement requires ongoing effort
Most leaders know they need to be proactive about engaging employees. Yet so many employee engagement strategies fail because they aren’t consistently applied and reinforced throughout the entire organization. Leaders can also overcomplicate the matter using employee engagement metrics that are tied too much to the overall performance of the organization. Or they aim to elevate engagement by a certain percentage point and abandon employee engagement initiatives once that goal has been met.
Although many of the world’s most successful organizations use these employee engagement strategies, it’s worth remembering that employee engagement isn’t a single strategy or a one-time initiative. It’s an ongoing philosophy. At the end of the day, it’s about understanding what employees need to feel fulfilled and inspiring them to do their best for the good of your organization.