Many factors have actually increased employee engagement over the last year. Now, the challenge is to keep it on the rise.
By Simon Kent
For some businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic heightened the emphasis on employee engagement, resulting in improvements to worker attitudes and productivity.
“In the past year, businesses have been forced to be more flexible whilst their employees have worked from home, but as a result, many have realised that productivity hasn’t suffered, especially among staff who have either invested or been provided with the tech they need to set up suitable workspaces rather than work at the kitchen table,” says Dave Crew, commercial director of EMEA at computer accessories company Targus. “As we emerge from the pandemic and returning to the office becomes a possibility, it is imperative for employers to maintain this level of productivity by understanding the wants and needs of their staff.”
But a large portion of organisations have yet to face this. In fact, a survey by Targus found that despite everything, 40% of office workers across Europe haven’t discussed new work arrangements with their bosses. Without those conversations, the risk of disengagement at this point in the pandemic cycle is very real.
Marie Michel, head of talent acquisition at global affiliate marketing network Awin, says that the company saw its employee engagement rise last year as a product of embracing communication, flexibility, and community-focussed initiatives. “Now that we are facing a post-pandemic hybrid workforce in some of our offices, we are looking to continue focussing on people first with our ongoing four-day week trial and ‘Working Wherever & Whenever’ policy,” she says.
The company is also adapting its employee well-being initiatives to include financial well-being and parenting support as well as more social and health-led programmes. Michel says the initiatives will in part help people who are experiencing stress or anxiety connected with a return to the office and commute. “We will need to adapt our approach to our employees and ensure that we support them all equally across our territories, but also across our demographics, by implementing the correct structures,” she says.
“Employees’ happiness and a healthy work-life balance is recognised as a driving force for increased productivity, performance, and client service,” she adds. “Awin wants to evolve in line with the current changes to how, when, and where we work, and we’re excited for what the future holds.”
“We’ve seen engagement levels across many of our clients actually increase,” confirms Donna Hamilton, director of customer success at engagement company Peachy Mondays. “Changes to ways of working meant that organisations are have become more intentional about listening to their employees and worked really hard to be inclusive when it came to communicating new ways of working. Clients that have used employee listening to check in on employee well-being have also seen increases in employee well-being. Employees feel cared about, which is positively impacting advocacy, their sense of belonging, and levels of commitment.”
Hamilton notes that any successful way forward is going to require organisations to appreciate the difference in views among employees as the situation evolves. “Some people can’t wait to get back to the office, others will be dragged kicking and screaming,” she says. “The majority of employees that we’ve surveyed want more flexibility in the future and many will vote with their feet if they don’t get it.
“Connecting employees to organisational purpose and helping them to switch between work and home personas will be key to maintaining employee engagement in the new world of work,” she says. Thomas Mulder, HR executive director at VodafoneZiggo, says his business has carefully measured the impact of homeworking. He reports absenteeism is down by 10% compared to 2019 levels whilst productivity and employee engagement have risen.
Going forward, Mulder is clear that understanding how employees work and making sure they understand the reasoning behind business decisions about flexibility will be critical to a positive work environment. “As many businesses are aware, flexible working centres on the individual,” he explains. “In the new hybrid way of working, the team and the individual are given equal importance. You work whenever, wherever, and however is most efficient for the team. For equality within the team, it’s essential to decide if everyone attends either virtually or physically.”
Nikki Thorpe, director of people and culture at workplace management platform Planday, agrees that communication will be critical to ongoing success. “From an employee perspective, there is a greater need to communicate regularly with managers and other team members to ensure everyone is on the same page when it comes to sharing tasks,” she says. “In order to keep morale high, it’s also important that good work and effort is shared amongst wider teams and is celebrated.”
At the same time, Thorpe is clear that the new hybrid workplace needs businesses to reconsider how employees are monitored and measured. “If a business is unable to measure the success of its teams purely on outcomes or deliverables, the need for visibility of activity, challenges faced, and how teams are working together -or not -may require physical presence,” she says.
HR leaders are clearly aware that they are entering into the next phase of managing the impact of the pandemic. Having taken initiatives to increase engagement throughout the past year, companies now need to ensure they keep up the momentum. By keeping an eye on individual and team performance, companies can use home and on-site working strategically as part of their strategy to maintain and even increase engagement in the future.