Our last blog explored what employee engagement really is, and why it matters – to individuals, teams and organisations as a whole - recognising ultimately that engaged employees will have a positive impact on a business’s bottom line. However, it’s important to recognise that as businesses change, the way in which they seek to engage employees has to be continuously agile. Leaders need to be aware of changes and emerging trends in the wider work context and give some consideration to how they impact engagement – positively or negatively - and most importantly, how they must react. Let’s take a look at some of the emerging trends:
With no fixed retirement dates, and changes in our lifestyle and science resulting in longer life, the age range of our workforce now spans more than 50 years. From the Maturists ( or ‘traditionalists’ -born in the first half of the 20th century), right through to GenZ, who are just leaving school and heading into apprenticeships, we now have five generations at work. The workplace expectations of the different generations vary and to engage them all equally, we need to recognise those differences, react to and optimise them.
Typically, younger generations are looking for freedom and variety at work – more rapid career progression, the flexibility of when and how they work, more technology, corporate social responsibility, fewer rules and the opportunity to travel. Older workers typically seek stability, enjoy face to face interactions but may now be keen to balance work and life better.
These are of course generalisations, but it is useful to bear them in mind when considering how we engage people – we need to understand what makes people tick, what they need from their employers, peers and home life, as well as from their careers. We need to respond to those requirements with a flexible approach to engagement that can meet a range of preferences and needs.
We’ve been experiencing the trend of ‘disruption’ for some time now – with the rapid growth of businesses like Airbnb, Uber and Netflix offering new services to customers who want something different – and ripping up the rule books along the way. HR needs to follow suit – making sure that organisational culture is aligned to the practical matters of employment.
Typically, this means breaking down the barriers between businesses and their people – opening up communication pathways, breaking through hierarchies, removing policies and procedures that constrain innovation and freedom to act, and trusting that people will do their best for your business in return. We’ll continue to see challenge to our traditional ways of working – partly because our younger generations will expect it, partly because technology will enable it, and partly because we will see business benefits. Also, the competition will be doing it – they’ll offer virtual working, better technology, freedom of working patterns, etc.
To stay competitive in the employment market, organisations will have to re-think how they engage people and will need to be courageous in offering new and innovative ways of working, and this has to stretch to their engagement methods too.
As technology has taken over almost every aspect of our lives, it stands to reason that we should consider how employee engagement and technology can work together. It may seem counter-intuitive that we can engage people without face to face interactions, and instead allow technology to do that for us, but technological advances in the workplace provide us with some great opportunities to engage employees through:
- Collaboration: Providing opportunities to file share, use forums and chatboards, optimise the use of webinar and conferencing technologies, particularly with the emergence of virtual whiteboarding, remote noticeboarding etc. Work-based social networks – intranets, instant messaging etc., allow people to build relationships and communicate quickly – and where appropriate, globally. This collaboration not only speaks to an employee’s need to have social working environments but encourages problem-solving, innovation and creativity and improvements in quality and/or service.
- Learning: eLearning technology is evolving, providing much-improved learning experiences using interactivity, gamification and offering great flexibility about when, where and how an individual can learn. We’ll start to see the emergence of AI in the training room, and VR learning anywhere. Employers, trainers and facilitators need to get behind this trend and recognise the value it can add, not only to organisational capability but to the engagement and commitment of employees, particularly our Millennial and coming Gen Z populations.
- Flexibility: Having the right technology in place can offer great flexibility to both the employer and the employee. Many organisations are now moving towards more agile workplaces. In London for example, businesses are typically seeking desk space for just c65% of their workforce. Keeping costs down is one driver for this, but primarily, good use of technology means that employees can work much more flexibly – in terms of both when and where they work. This flexibility responds to a desire to have freedom of choice in when and where people work and enables the work-life balance that has become more important across the generations.
The most recent shift in the employee experience is the focus on wellbeing at work, with a strong emphasis on both mental and physical health. In a 2016 report, Great Place to Work1 stated that wellbeing is a key driver for employee engagement for many ‘employers of choice’ and reported that the number of employers offering wellbeing strategies is increasing, with half growing their activity in the previous 12 months. To stay competitive as an employer of choice in an increasingly active marketplace, employers need to consider their wellbeing strategy as part of their ways of working and their benefits package.
An emerging trend in the HR field, the employee experience (EEx) takes a more holistic view of how employees feel about, connect to and work with their employers. It is bigger than just engagement and is likely to incorporate the employer brand proposition, culture, values, engagement, performance and wellbeing. Developing this experience is a high priority for global organisations. A recent report by Deloitte2 found that “nearly 80% of executives rated employee experience very important or important, but only 22% reported that their companies were excellent at building a differentiated employee experience.” The emergence of ‘Chief Employee Experience Officers’ isn’t enough. To remain competitive in the talent market, businesses need to understand what EEx means in their business, looking at what matters to employees, establish a clear business case, and seek to deliver it – with the same priority as they would for their ‘Customer Experience’.
Next time, we’ll be focussing in on some practical plans that everyone can put in place in increase employee engagement, whatever the size of your budget or business.