Employee Engagement Trends for 2018
It’s that time of year again where we all give our two pennies’ worth on what the future holds. We’ve put our thinking caps on, and based on what we’re seeing from the data we collect, from our amazing clients, and from the global HR community, here’s our thoughts on employee engagement in 2018.
A hot topic of 2017, wellbeing, is a macro trend with a glimmer of improvement. Data collected from all the employees we surveyed in 2017 shows the score for ‘My company does enough to support my health and wellbeing at work’ is up 3 percentage points – when most other scores are flat.
Could we see more interventions like the French legislation that gives workers the right to disconnect? Maybe not, but the general trend is positive as more and more health and wellbeing conversations are enabled.
“During the last decade, as work related stress and overwork have become endemic, a new generation of mindfulness, resilience, and wellbeing programs has emerged.”
We’ve been working with many more organisations in 2017 who don’t just want to look at engagement. The cultural context and the wellbeing agenda have become central to the employee experience, and survey programmes have evolved to reflect this.
So is it employee engagement… or employee experience?
Employee experience has been a 2017 buzzword….so does that mean we’ve moved on from employee engagement?
Absolutely not. Employee experience is a lifecycle approach all about people getting a positive experience of the organisation from joining to leaving. It’s about the impression the things we do have on our people, and these impressions won’t be kept to themselves. Glassdoor keeps us on our toes and employees aren’t afraid to speak out. We all remember the PR surrounding that memo from a disgruntled Google employee that went viral back in August.
If you are using a model like PEARLTM to measure employee engagement, you’ll be getting a solid understanding of how employees feel about the organisation, as it looks at:
- Purpose – how the individual feels about the organisation’s integrity and goals
- Enablement – their satisfaction with equipment, tech, the workspace, training and support
- Autonomy – if the individual feels trusted & respected
- Reward – are they acknowledged and fulfilled, is there a culture of value and praise
- Leadership – is the experience of leaders positive – do they listen, support, and enable positive change
Using these themes, with specific tailored questions through the employee journey from onboarding to exit will help you understand, and adjust your employees’ experience accordingly.
The big organisations started taking this seriously back in 2016 – like when Airbnb’s CHRO became Chief Employee Experience Officer. Since then we’ve seem more of these roles – a trend which will probably become more commonplace in 2018.
Future proofing employees with a learning culture
So the bots are apparently here and 2018 onwards may see films like I, Robot, Ex Machina and Her become real life as A.I. replaces both routine tasks and more complex decision making.
So how do we deal with these fundamental changes?
Learning and adapting, is how, especially bearing this thought in mind:
‘The half-life of a learned skill is a mere five years. This means that much of what you learned 10 years ago is obsolete and half of what you learned 5 years ago is irrelevant.’ John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas, A New Culture of Learning.
Individually, we all need to be open to pursuing new skills, lest we be the forlorn coal miner of the 1980s, wondering where their livelihood went. Successful employees will be those who are proactive in learning. Like today’s Gen Z: as university education soars in cost they find other ways to learn through tech, and have an insatiable appetite for learning. In fact, PWC’s global survey showed a third of graduates valued learning as a benefit, compared to around a tenth who chose incentives.
For organisations, training, learning and adapting need to be seen as a central strategic priority in planning for the future. Fortunately the availability of learning tools has exploded. There’s a vast array of experience platforms, micro-learning platforms and even AI-based systems that recommend, find and deliver learning – and forward thinking organisations are snapping these up.  This is all about developing a learning culture. We need to encourage employees to see that embracing change is the norm.
‘Helping people upskill and adapt to a fast-changing world of work will be the defining challenge of our time.’ Jonas Prising, Chairman & CEO, Manpower Group
Uncertain times require decision making guts
The economic and political environment continues to be uncertain (they call it ‘VUCA’ ) and organisations will respond with more transformational change. It’s a time of imperfect information and multiple scenarios, but nevertheless, leaders need to carry on making decisions. In fact, the Harvard Business Review found that the most successful CEOs are decisive not ditherers. If a decision turns out to be wrong, they then take swift corrective action.
“Once I have 65% certainty around the answer, I have to make a call,” says Jerry Bowe, CEO of the manufacturer Vi-Jon. “I ask myself: First, what’s the impact if I get it wrong? And second, how much will it hold other things up if I don’t move on this?”
Of course, it’s not just the CEO faced with ambiguity, we all are, and creating an organisational culture in which we make decisions, are allowed to fail and try again is key.
Emotional connection to work becomes critical
‘To keep our society moving forward, we have a generational challenge — to not only create new jobs, but create a renewed sense of purpose.’ Mark Zuckerberg
It is not new to talk about the importance of purpose. Organisations the world over establish what their vision is, and how they plan to get there, but they are still struggling with what Simon Sinek calls the why.
Our research shows that the sticking point is making the emotional connection for employees with the purpose. ‘The purpose of my company makes me feel good about my work’ is down 4 percentage points in 2017 (78% to 74%) whilst most other scores are flat.
Helping internal facing staff to see how end users feel about the organisation’s products or services is an effective technique to bring meaning to the day to day. Have a look at two examples:
- The ‘Bringing the outside in’ project – Camelot
- Seeing people move into their new home – Crest Nicholson
At times of change, having a deeply rooted purpose to ground us can only help employees feel secure and certain about the organisation they work in.
With more restructuring and ambiguity comes the threat of talent drain, good people leaving because the organisation doesn’t look like the one they joined. Companies that manage to maintain an emotionally resonant culture where people feel connected, help and reciprocate are more likely to engage and retain their talent and be more productive.
“Companies are being forced to focus more on corporate culture and values than pay in order to retain employees.” Dan Schawbel, Future Workplace.
Beyond flexible working
When recruiting, at People Insight we’ve found candidates want to know our ‘flexible working’ policy early in the process. Our policy works well to support our diverse workforce’s lifestyle and commitments and helps when we just need to get our head down and get stuff done.
It’s a balance though. Flexible working is rightly here to stay – but needs managing:
- Our best work isn’t always done in isolation with ‘This Morning’ on in the background in our PJs. The casual question, the overheard story and the snippet of news in the office provide vital pieces of micro data that help us do our job better as we pick up on tone, expectations, attitudes, priorities and ideas.
- Loneliness is a real thing. We’ve got Skype, Workplace, Slack, email, phone calls, text – you name it. Missing out on drinks after work, office banter (a ’social lubricant’) and just human contact can have a negative effect on our emotions and our productivity.
We need to make the effort to keep the emotional connection going, e.g. building five minutes of conversation into team conference calls and remembering to include those out of the office on social arrangements.
People, planet and profits
Another aspect to organisation culture and values will be the growing importance of social responsibility. The CONE Millennial Study shows that more than 80% of teens to 25 year olds want to work for an organisation which contributes to society, and the ‘triple bottom line’ of people, planet and profits has become hugely popular with tomorrow’s recruits. Organisations will need to ask themselves:
- Is reward fair to our staff and our stakeholders?
- How can we support our employees to contribute to society?
- How do we minimise any negative impact of our business on people outside our organisation?
- How can we reduce consumption or waste?
- How do we incentivise positive environmental practices?
- Can we source materials from sustainable operations?
- Can we share any profit with employees?
- Can we donate any profit?
- If we can’t do the above, can we reduce wasteful spending?
Calling out inappropriate behaviour becomes a cultural norm
The explosion of allegations of sexual misconduct in the media in 2017 has given more people confidence to call out their own experiences. We all have to look at our actions and ensure we are doing our best to support equality and diversity in every aspect of work.13
Employee satisfaction with equality and diversity is down. Across all our surveys, the score for the question ‘My company ensures that all people are treated fairly and equally’ fell 4 percentage points in 2017 (67% to 63%) whilst most other scores remained flat.
Whether it’s because employees’ expectations are higher, or because organisations are not prioritising the issue is not clear at a macro level. There’s a minefield to be explored, where one person’s banter makes another uncomfortable. In the current environment it’s worth revisiting.
For example, ensuring employees are clear on what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour in the workplace. Checking reporting procedures are appropriate and it’s a cultural norm to use them. Perhaps most important is leading from the top, with senior figures role modelling respect and valuing differences.
Reviewing all of our research above, it’s clear that establishing a culture that embraces bold decision making, diversity, wellbeing, emotional connectivity, social responsibility and learning will help navigate the years ahead. That’s no mean feat! But as 2017 draws to a close, let’s take stock of what we’ve achieved, recuperate with some family time at Christmas, and recharge for the challenge ahead.
References and more on this topic:
 HR Tech Disruptions 2018 Report
 Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity
With thanks to Sam Antoniou for her brilliant input.
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