HR Insights
Deep Dive
April 28, 2020

Employee engagement strategies for today’s workforce

COVID-19 has heightened the need for employee engagement as organizations are realizing the impact it has on continued productivity and performance. Here are 12 engagement strategies to drive long-term value for your organization.

Table of Contents

As business environments continue to change amid the COVID-19 pandemic, engaging employees has been a priority for many organizations. Global analyst Josh Bersin notes that in the middle of a pandemic, research shows that companies are treating their employees better than ever. These organizations are realizing the benefits of an engaged workforce. According to Gallup, teams with stronger employee engagement perform at higher levels, have higher productivity, fewer accidents, and 21% higher profitability. Engaged workers not only perform better but have better health outcomes as well, which can contribute to decreased absenteeism.

Perks such as free lunches, onsite fitness and daycare centers, or meditation rooms can signal to employees that the company is investing in their needs, however, these added perks don’t necessarily contribute to long-term engagement and performance. Organizations looking to improve engagement should develop a holistic employee engagement strategy, considering the key pillars of the employee experience together, such as onboarding, compensation, learning and development, scheduling, and benefits, and how they drive long-term value as part of the holistic strategy.

Bersin highlights the significance of empowering employees to provide constructive feedback and share unbiased information that helps managers make the workplace better. However, without the right technology in place, organizations won’t be able to act quickly which can be detrimental to engagement and morale as employee feedback is left unacknowledged.

Employee engagement in the new world of work

The pandemic has only heightened the need for engagement as workforces adapt to a working environment they have never experienced before. In our recent webinar, Barbara Veder VP, Global Clinical Services, Research Lead and Chief Clinician of Morneau Shepell stated the importance of implementing different tactics and strategies to support and engage employees during different stages of the pandemic. Similarly, a recent McKinsey report highlights the need for organizations to act promptly to maximize engagement and productivity during and after situations such as a pandemic.

It’s critical that organizations are continuously assessing trends and patterns in engagement across their workforce, setting up systems to support continuous feedback, and developing action plans to address gaps or problem areas. Here is a list of employee engagement strategies to consider while addressing the needs of the modern workforce.

Employee engagement strategies for the modern workforce

1. Engage employees from day one

Onboarding plays an important role in building employee engagement from day one, and the experience should be personalized to instill a sense of belonging in new hires. Employee onboarding is one of the most important functions of HR as it plays a critical role in an employee’s engagement and time-to-productivity.

The employee onboarding process can be overwhelming for new hires, especially with the added stress of starting a new job. Many companies overlook onboarding missing critical elements such as filling out paperwork or registering for training. However, when an organization makes the onboarding process easier and more seamless for a new employee, it can have a positive impact on long-term engagement.

In the context of today's world, employee onboarding can be even more difficult as the workforce is dispersed or working remotely. Technology can help build connections, strengthen teams, and reinforce culture. New hires can familiarize themselves with team structures and dynamics, learn information about the company, and complete paperwork faster.

2. Rethink company policies and practices

The pandemic has accelerated changes that impact the world of work, one of which is a shift to more flexible working arrangements. Thought leaders are compelling companies to prepare for a world of work where remote working is the norm, and forward-looking employers should adjust policies and practices accordingly. A Willis Towers Watson study found that 79% of companies see a positive or neutral change in employee productivity, and only 21% said it went down.” 

Organizations should recognize the changing needs of the workforce and update company policies as working arrangements shift. After the pandemic has passed, many organizations may realize some roles and jobs can be performed just as effectively if not better from home and could potentially update company policies to allow for more remote work. Some employees may not have the right technology or equipment to remain productive, especially over extended periods of time. For example, having a headset that does not pick up background noise from a busy household or a desk chair that is ergonomic. Organizations can consider helping employees overcome challenges of transitioning to remote work by providing allowances for equipment such as chairs, desks, headphones, and monitors so employees can set up productive workstations for remote work.

As well, flexible scheduling will be essential as employees are adjusting to a new normal. This may involve allowing employees to start work later and end later, for example. Research has demonstrated that when employees have a greater sense of satisfaction with their work and their personal life, they tend to contribute more discretionary effort to their work. Employers can also consider implementing family friendly policies by allowing employees to take a couple hours to address personal matters, such as taking a child to a doctor’s appointment.

3. Build a culture of trust

Employees in high-trust organizations are more productive, have more energy at work, and collaborate better with their colleagues, according to Paul Zak, Founding Director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies. Building a high-trust culture will also help employees manage stress and contribute to their overall happiness.

One way organizations can build trust is by empowering employees to have greater ownership of their projects and daily work. According to Harvard Business Review employees that are empowered feel that their job has meaning and is aligned with their values. These employees typically have the space to generate novel ideas and the confidence that their ideas will be valued.

4. Rethink annual engagement surveys

One of the most effective ways to establish trust is by giving employees a voice and listening to their feedback. Organizations can use survey tools to take a quick, regular pulse of their people by providing a platform to voice opinions and concerns. Engagement sentiment tools help organizations to collect feedback from people and identify patterns and trends in employees’ emotional states. With this information, organizations can build action plans to respond quickly to employee concerns, as well as help reduce turnover, burnout, and absenteeism.

Organizations will need to rethink their approach to traditional engagement strategies such as the annual survey, as they can cause a type of paralysis that can be detrimental to company culture. As well, survey data can quickly become outdated or irrelevant if relegated to a once-a-year exercise. Asking employees for feedback can create an expectation that you’ll respond to their input. Organizations must rethink their approach to engagement surveys and ask questions that will have a long-term impact.

Related: How to deliver feedback and help employees grow

5. Set structure and define expectations

If employees do not clearly understand what they are accountable for, they may struggle to set priorities and achieve results. According to the McKinsey’s COVID-19 Briefing materials report, defining clear objectives and key results (OKRs) to effectively set and communicate goals and outcomes is an essential part of providing the workforce with the structure they need to remain engaged. As business environments continue to change and adapt to the new way of working, organizations must continuously check in with their people and define expectations as they relate to overall business goals.

Related: The power of checking in: Driving engagement by reaching out

6. Align employees’ goals with those of the company

A contributing factor to engagement and job satisfaction is whether an employee feels they’re contributing to their company’s overall business goals. In Ceridian’s 2018-19 Pulse of Talent survey, only 51% of respondents said that they feel they’re making an impact; yet 92% of those who do are happy in their jobs – compared with only 58% of those who don’t feel they’re making an impact.

The health crisis has revealed a need for agility as employers have shifted focus on mission critical roles or redeployed skillsets to support business priorities. Role transitions are more successful when companies are transparent with employees about goals and what they’re trying to achieve. Employees who understand business goals and are made aware of timely shifts in business priorities are also better able to refocus their efforts when they understand what they’re working towards.

7. Be transparent about pay and promotions

Transparency is an important factor that impacts how employees view their pay. Employees want information into why they’re paid a certain amount and how it relates to their role within their organization. Ceridian’s 2019 Pay Experience Report found that the level of satisfaction with pay transparency amongst employees could be improved: 57% of respondents said they’re at least somewhat satisfied with the transparency of this information, while 56% said they were satisfied with the fairness of pay reviews.

If people understand what the pay ranges are for the roles they work in, it allows them to have greater insight into why they are compensated the way they are. Organizations should consider implementing regular pay reviews with relevant and transparent information about how the decisions are reached to harness trust and employee engagement.

Related: Employees want more transparency from their pay, research reveals

Transparency around promotions and career development is just as important. Only 52% of employees think their companies give promotions when deserved. In fact, respondents said that two years, on average, is a reasonable timeframe to receive a promotion at their current employer but reported that they themselves received a promotion in five years, on average. In addition to pay, employers should also be transparent with employees about promotions and career trajectories.

8. Personalize learning experiences

The pandemic is requiring the need for businesses to transition employees to fill other roles. Businesses – specifically those in food services and retail and hospitality – will need to gain access to the right skill as they resume business activities after the health crisis.

There has also been a surge in online learning consumption – not just for critical skills relevant to an employees’ job, but industry agnostic skills such as critical thinking and complex problem-solving. The need to acquire these types of skills will continue to grow as companies navigate through the complexities of the new normal.

Social learning through learning experience platforms (LXPs) will help engage the workforce as employees can share their expertise within a channel or discussion forum to help solve problems and answer questions in a collaborative way. Not only does this contribute to knowledge sharing across the organization, but it can contribute to employee morale and engagement. Learning experience platforms can also support employees that need to learn quickly such as learning new policies and updated procedures for healthcare workers.

Related: Trends in workplace learning and the outlook for 2020

9. Involve leadership in recognition and rewards

Many employees can feel like they are spinning their wheels, especially if they have not received a promotion in a few years. Rewards and recognition from leadership can go a long way in keeping employees engaged. In fact, seven out of 10 employees who reported receiving a form of appreciation from their supervisors said they were happy with their jobs.

Organizations will need to implement ways in which employees can show growth beyond a promotion. Rather than sharing overall team recognition, managers or supervisors can share how individual employees contributed to a successful project and offer them a chance to showcase their hard work. This will also create visibility for those that might otherwise go unnoticed in larger teams.

10. Provide opportunities to grow

A learning culture is beneficial for career development and overall business, but it is also a significant contributing factor of employee engagement. According to Gallup, top talent wants a manager who can coach them to the next level. Further, 94% of employees say they would stay longer at a company if it invested in their career development.

Employees working for companies that offer resources for learning – from workshops to webinars to formal classes – are more likely to feel happier and stay longer than when these resources are not offered. Organizations can also leverage succession planning to provide employees with a clear progression path within the organization.

11. Offer holistic benefits

It’s been widely discussed that we’ll see greater investment in and higher priority placed on well-being and resilience going forward. The pandemic has placed a sharper focus on the need to take care of employees first, and the need to offer holistic benefits beyond the basics. For example, with new working arrangements come new considerations for creating psychological safety, combatting loneliness and social isolation, and investing in employee listening strategies.

Organizations can invest in technology to better support the workforce during difficult times by providing online benefits selection tools, to help employees customize their benefits packages to meet their individual needs. 

Organizations can also consider providing flexible pay solutions to support employee financial wellness. When employees are financially stressed, their overall engagement can suffer. In Ceridian’s 2019 Pay Experience Report, 80% of employees surveyed said they feel at least slightly stressed about money on a regular basis. Today, the odds of slipping into a recession are increasingly likely, creating further anxiety. Organizations can adopt innovative on-demand pay technology that allows the workforce to access their pay on the same day, rather than waiting for the next pay period to be paid out. This will help employees reduce stress around finances and signal to employees that the organization is recognizing and meeting their needs.

Related: Resources for employers to support the mental health of their workforce.

12. Leverage technology to support a seamless employee experience

Employees today expect their experience at work to be comparable to that of their experience as consumers – an experience that’s personal, tailored to their needs, and is synced at every touchpoint. Organizations can leverage a single human capital management system to manage, tailor, and provide a seamless experience for employees with minimal friction points. This type of technology is also helpful for leaders as they work to build a culture of resilience and engagement.

Rethinking employee engagement

According to Bersin, building an engagement strategy for today’s workforce requires focus on two key priorities: culture and technology. Organizations, Bersin states, should build a management culture that allows people to feel safe and comfortable when voicing their feedback. Organizations will also need to have the right technology in place to continuously collect the right feedback and identify trends and gaps across the organization. Employee engagement technology can provide managers with real-time data from surveys so they can identify trends and build specific action plans to respond accordingly.

Learn how Dayforce employee engagement software can help your organization drive performance and productivity amid changing business environments.

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