Employee engagement in 2021: what’s the secret to success?

There may never have been a more important year for businesses to engage their workforces, so we’re kicking off our first blog series of 2021 with a guide through the ins and outs of employee engagement.

We’ll cover topics such as developing your employee engagement strategy, proactively driving diversity and inclusion, engaging your workforce on health and wellbeing, and making sure your employees are feeling appreciated.

In our first blog, we’re focusing on developing a robust strategy for the year and, for those who are new to focusing on employee engagement, we’ll start with what it is and where it sits within the organisational structure.

Employee engagement definitions

Getting your employee engagement right involves creating an environment – physically, socially and psychologically – that enables your employees to do their best work. Being the best they can be might be providing your customers with the best service, developing the most innovative products or services, or working more accurately and efficiently.

Essentially, it’s your people that make your organisation thrive and outperform your competitors. For organisations to achieve this they need to engage their employees, not just with their specific roles in the business but with the organisation and its vision as well. Employees need to feel part of the bigger picture, understand the direction of travel and feel inspired to help make their contribution to the overall success of the organisation.

Taking this sentiment, employee engagement can include everything from running mental and physical wellbeing campaigns to project managing the office décor and many things in between. At Something Big we believe a lot of it comes down to when, what and how organisations communicate with their employees and that’s our area of expertise.

Employee engagement in the organisational structure

Engaging employees is a shared responsibility – from the CEO, line managers and supervisors to internal communications and HR functions – so there’s no simple answer to where it sits in the organisational structure.

For large companies there will need to be a dedicated team who report differently depending on the culture and structure of the organisation. In some businesses HR departments lead on employer brand and employee experience. Due to the heavy requirement for communications, some employee engagement and internal communications may fall together under a Marketing and Communications department. For some service-led organisations a People and Culture function may report directly into the CEO.

In smaller businesses the lines are even more blurry: setting the tone of the organisation’s culture often comes from the senior leadership team with internal communications being quite department-led.

Where it sits is perhaps less critical, what’s more important is that it is not neglected or allowed to fall through the cracks.

The importance and benefits of employee engagement

At Something Big we go as far as to say that employee engagement makes the difference between an organisation that’s thriving and one that’s surviving, or even nose diving. Put another way, it’s the difference between outperforming your competitors and not, and in a Covid world where many businesses are struggling, it needs to be high on the board agenda. In fact, employee platform provider Glint Inc claims organisations with engaged employees generate 2.5 times more revenue than those with low levels of engagement, so if Covid has hit your organisations sales line then engaging the team won’t be a bad place to start.

Even before Covid, leading industry sources claimed that around 40% of employees reported not feeling connected or engaged with their organisations and that they had little emotional connection with their employers.

Leading consultancy Aon Hewitt believe that engaged employees do three core things:

Say – speak positively about their organisation to co-workers internally and externally to clients, consumers and potential employees

Stay – feel like they belong and as a result stay longer within an organisation, increasing their brand and product knowledge and their contribution to the success of the organisation

Strive – are motivated and exert added effort towards the success of the organisation

Following large-scale redundancies in the past few months it may feel as though there will be a boom in talent available to organisations, but anyone who is responsible for attracting and recruiting talent will not be fooled into thinking this is a buyers’ market. Finding skilled candidates with the right values for your organisation takes time and effort, which can be wasted if they don’t feel engaged and leave.

Employee engagement strategies

Like any strategy it’s best to begin with knowing and understanding where you are now and where you want to be. If you’re not sure how to measure where your employee engagement is, you won’t go far wrong by asking your employees! Employee opinion surveys, listening groups, personal interviews, roadshows and town hall meetings are all good ways of gathering data on the sentiment of your workforce and identifying where they feel the gaps are.

Armed with data from your employees, lean on your business strategy, company goals and objectives to identify the direction the business is heading: this determines the specific areas you might need to engage your workforce on. As an example, if the organisational vision is to be the most innovative widget manufacturer in the sector, then you’ll need your workforce to feel high levels of creative empowerment, they’ll need to feel safe to fail in order to succeed and they might need a structure that enables them to collaborate without being caught up in red tape. Alternatively, if your vision is to provide the best customer experience in your sector it stands to reason that you’ll need to provide your team with the best experience too, from the office environment to the onboarding process. If the vision is to be the fastest growing… well, you’re getting the idea.

Reviewing the gap between your employee sentiment now and where the organisation wants to be will highlight the direction of the journey you need to take, but it won’t tell you the route. This comes through the culture and values that your organisation has laid out. From integrity and trust to boldness and can-do attitudes, these values will help you determine how you want to engage your employees, surfacing the right value-led behaviour and enabling all employees to unite in these values, regardless of their role.

And finally, armed with a destination and a route, you’ll need a mode of transport and this comes through the tactics and tasks that will get you from A to B. The full scope of this will depend on your remit but could range from determining and managing a set of regular communications, running quarterly campaigns on specific topics (diversity, mental health and wellbeing, employee appreciation) to working with middle management layers to improve team cohesiveness and running listening forums on specific topics.

In our next blog we will look more closely at understanding your workforce, from different roles (frontline up to management and leadership) to the diverse nature of workforces. We’ll give you tips on how to engage different groups, including hard-to-reach employees.

If you’ve found this useful, get in touch with us and we’ll make sure you don’t miss the rest of this series.

 

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