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Post pandemic rules of employee engagement

Digital transformation has enabled organisations to completely reimagine the way they work and manage people. Digital collaboration software allows us to work from any location and reliable video conferencing platforms help us communicate.

We have a data centric approach to decision-making, powered by a combination of human and artificial intelligence. The voice of the consumer – employee and candidate – is ever stronger and the role of organisations under increasing scrutiny. Yet it took a global pandemic for us to admit that the way people work today has changed, and now we’re realising the way we manage people needs to change too. So in this new normal or hybrid working, what are the post pandemic rules of employee engagement?

Have people’s expectations of work shifted?

Well I don’t think so. Research commissioned by Manpower Group (Closing the Skills Gap: What Workers Want) tells us about employees’ expectations pre-Covid. The research showed that employees’ expectation of work varies by age, gender, geography, and where they are in their career lifecycle. Common drivers are featured throughout the research, but varied in importance depending on age and career lifecycle.

More pay
Flexible hours
Challenging work
Further my career
Strong employer brand
Develop my skills
Good boss
Good place to work
Shorter commute
Great team
Flexible location

What attracts workers to an organisation can also be what engages and makes them stay. Sometimes we confuse ourselves with our complicated definitions of employee engagement. We forget that what drives employee engagement is often personal to the individual; and this research demonstrated once again that employee engagement is not a “one size fits all” pyramid model. What employees wanted from work before the pandemic, hasn’t changed because OF the pandemic. So what has changed instead?

Employees have their own hierarchy of needs.

Deep down we’ve always known that people are individuals and have their own unique expectations. We’ve always said that effective leadership is about flexing your style to suit the situation and the individual. Yet our traditional approach to employee engagement was based on static engagement models assuming engagement could be increased by doing certain things.

Real engagement at work is an individual measure. Each employee values different drivers to a different extent, and requires different levels of each driver to be present. In addition, research has shown that employees who enjoy at least 75% of their job are approximately 3 times more likely to succeed than employees who enjoy less than 75% of their job.

Drawbacks of traditional employee engagement surveys.

1. The assumption that creating engaged employees is the organisation’s responsibility.

Engagement comes from within the individual, therefore the responsibility for engagement should be a combination of the organisation’s and the individual’s efforts and actions. Traditional engagement surveys only focus on general levels of employee satisfaction and/or perceptions of the organisation and management. They don’t consider that engagement is influenced by two or more complementary traits working together to produce an outcome.

2. Surveys are anonymous in order to encourage honest answers.

Anonymous surveys prevent managers from discussing with individuals how their needs can be aligned with the organisation’s objectives. Managers need to understand an individual’s expectations, preferences, and behaviours to have targeted conversations aimed at increasing engagement and retention.

3. Anonymous data is passed to Managers to analyse and develop action plans.

Managers don’t often have the time and data analytics skills to analyse volumes of anonymous data from surveys, particularly when some of that data relates to their own personal performance.

4. Anonymous surveys can create a closed culture and damage the psychological contract.

Asking employees to anonymously feedback on their perceptions of the organisation and their Line Manager’s performance, does not support a relationship of mutual trust and respect. The anonymity of the survey creates an atmosphere of distrust or anxiety – “why does this survey need to be anonymous?”. Asking employees to comment on their Line Manager’s performance often creates psychological tension between the manager and the employee. All of which can create distrust, tension and damage the psychological contract, influencing the wider organisational culture and climate.

5. Engagement surveys are notorious for low response rates.

Traditional employee engagement surveys require much effort and time to obtain good response rates. Often employees cite feeling pressured into completing the survey. Reasons for low participation include reasons such as “no one listens’ or “no action is taken”. Employees do not feel benefit from completing the survey.

What are the alternative rules of employee engagement in the post pandemic world?

Traditional definitions and ways of measuring employee engagement are no longer relevant in this post pandemic world. We need to look at engagement from the individual employee’s perspective, understanding what is important to the individual and to what degree each important factor is currently fulfilled. Employee Engagement is a shared responsibility between the employee and the organisation; and high levels of engagement throughout the organisation need candid conversations between managers and team members about what each person wants and what engages them.

Our survey tool asks questions about the individual’s work preferences and also identifies the behaviours that the individual needs to fulfil their own expectations. Both employees and managers learn together what job factors individual employees enjoy and the degree to which they are met; as well as identify how the organisation can help fulfil the employee’s expectations and what the employee needs to do. This fundamentally changes the employee’s motivation to complete the survey, as they personally benefit from the survey.

Simple to read and easy to access reports.

On completion of our survey each employee will receive a personal “Your Greatest Strengths” report, providing them with an immediate, tangible benefit for completing the survey. Both individuals and managers also receive the main report, explaining the internal dynamics of engagement for each individual, enabling an effective conversation that sparks individual motivation and engagement. There is no need for managers to analyse data or interpret reports. This focus on mutual needs leads to mutual respect, shared responsibility, and an employment relationship that is much more likely to be maintained over a longer period of time.

Develop a culture of engagement amongst remote or hybrid teams.

Many people have no desire to return to the office full time. The same Manpower research showed 8 in 10 workers wanted more remote work to attain a healthier work life balance. But how do you build culture and engagement if your team doesn’t “sit” together? Culture doesn’t exist in a building alone. It exists within people. So understanding your employee’s needs and expectations in an increasingly remote world is even more important. And releasing managers to understand their employees’ individual needs and expectations simply and quickly, also lends itself to a culture of engagement in a remote team.

So before you plan and execute your next employee engagement survey, stop and consider – how relevant is your engagement strategy in this post pandemic world? If it’s time for you to reconsider your employee engagement strategy, please give me a call…

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