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Employee Engagement Trends for 2017

15 Dec 2016 - Blog, News

Employee Engagement Trends for 2017



What a year! 12 months ago Trump in the White House sounded ridiculous, and Prince, David Bowie and Terry Wogan were still with us. In HR, we’ve seen tremendous change too, with the gig economy rapidly expanding, and more new HR tech and apps than you can shake a stick at.

At People Insight, we’ve been reflecting on what’s changed in the world of employee engagement. Here’s what we think the priorities will be in 2017.


The scope of engagement broadens


2017 will see organisations incorporate related issues such as employee wellbeing and organisational integrity into their engagement strategy, moving beyond the traditional focus.

Wellbeing at work has been moving up the executive agenda, stimulated by the global trend in broader physical and mental health improvement, and business leaders such as Arianna Huffington speaking out against workplace stress and burnout – the number one cause of absenteeism.

Workplace wellness benefits will become critical, particularly for attracting millennials and generation Z where the juicing, step tracking and mindfulness trends peak.

As wellbeing and engagement share similar drivers, integrating measurement of both engagement and wellbeing will become more commonplace, with leading providers of employee engagement surveys providing expertise and advice in both areas.


See also: Helping your people cope with stress and avoid burnout

More on Wellbeing and sleep here.


Line managers must be skilled to support both engagement and wellbeing


Employees are looking for a lot from the relationship with their line manager; they want to be continuously coached, developed and challenged, whilst being given autonomy over how they achieve their tasks.

As wellbeing expands, line managers need to play a critical role; enabling conversations about physical and mental health, identifying issues and being able to point staff in the right direction for support.  This may mean a significant cultural and training shift is required in some organisations.

Read more here.


Engaging the ‘fluid work force’ means change


The way we work is becoming more fluid, flexible, and dynamic, with more freelancers, ‘gigers’ and contract workers blending with full time or part time contract staff.

We expect to work from anywhere – coffee shops, trains, the gym, the bedroom, the office. Work flexibility has to be a mainstream benefit to fit with the sheer demands of work, our “always on” society and the transport issues faced this year. More than half of UK workers are re-thinking their travel arrangements for 2017 as train problems and rising prices have created a negative impact on commuting[1].

How we engage and stay connected with this fluid and diverse workforce therefore will be a key challenge going forward. Particularly how we help people collaborate when they are disparate – ‘breaking down silos’ and ‘sharing data more freely’ are frequent employee survey requests.


Leaders must adapt in 2017 to keep staff engaged


Leadership style for managing an ambiguous horizon will be critical for engagement. With Brexit and the wide speculation on implications for businesses, leaders need to stay in tune with the macro concerns of their people and steer them through uncertainty. Discussion – even if there is not a lot to say, sustains trust and shows staff they are valued. One tech firm has already lost key talent as lack of communication from their firm made them feel both unvalued and unwanted, and they felt their prospects were more secure in Europe.

To engage from the top, consider creative ideas – e.g. hackathons (AXA have recently run a hackathon for their graduates to solve business issues[2]), and gamification involving staff in some of the key challenges they are concerned about to encourage collaboration, to help them develop and grow.


Employee surveys continue to evolve


2016 has seen some organisations switch from annual surveys to more frequent pulses, pumped out to staff on as often as a weekly basis. We’ve had a good year of this experience, 2017 will see this clamour for instant data settle to a more manageable depth and frequency.

David Littlechild, Head of Culture and Engagement at Lloyds, recently said

“…the problem with conducting such frequent surveys was that line managers weren’t gaining any new insights and didn’t have time to digest that much data and take action on what the latest employee polls told them.”[3]

The focus will shift from tweaking how we collect data, to what we do with the data as a result. In return for their opinions, staff expect change, and if you can’t deliver, you will have failed.

Find out more here.


The purposive approach to engagement


It will become more commonplace to link employee engagement with key organisational challenges and outcomes, called ‘People Analytics.’ This kind of modelling has doubled over the past three years.

For example leaders may start with a problem such as “how do we improve talent retention?” and by linking a range of data sources, arrive at an evidence based solution. IBM has used people analytics to predict retention risk for employees in key job roles, and notifies managers so they can prevent them from quitting, which has saved the company over $130 million dollars.[4] This approach derives maximum benefit from the masses of data generated through surveys and HR systems.

Organisations today benefit from vastly improved business and HR metrics and it is by linking and extracting meaning from them that HR will further strengthen its ability to drive strategic results. 2017 and beyond are exciting times for evidence based HR.


Don’t be old school with Millennials and ‘Gen Z’


Millennials in 2017 will represent an established segment of the workforce, with a third moving to management roles, followed by the latest kids on the block, Generation Z (born mid 1990s – 2000s) entering their first roles.

The pressure to change how we do things from these groups is no longer marginal. In the office, they want space to collaborate not cubicles, then they want to work flexibly and remotely via live chat and online platforms, not email.

If approaches are deemed ‘old school’ and don’t reflect their ways of working, it causes frustration and a decline in engagement, so people approaches must become more responsive.

The two most important benefits Millennials and Gen Z want are flexibility and career development;[5] the opportunity to advance in their careers quickly, and to develop leadership skills in now more senior positions will keep organisations on their toes to retain their young talent.


With thanks to Claire Elwin, Sam Arnold, Tom Debenham and Richard McDonough for their brilliant insights.

References and more on this topic:

[1] Regus

[2] AXA

[3] HRE

[4] Forbes

[5] Randstad

Deloitte’s Millennials Survey

Gen Z and Millennials meet in the workplace


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