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Rethinking employee engagement for Hybrid Working

One of the top 10 CEO issues for 2022 is Hybrid Working.  8 in 10 UK employers have reportedly adopted hybrid working since the onset of the pandemic.  The fact that it features on CEO’s top 10 issues means that we haven’t yet got it right and still have more to learn.  It’s safe to say that rethinking employee engagement for hybrid working is on the CEO’s agenda.


A 2020 roundtable discussion facilitated by Gallup discovered that the Pandemic changed the way CHROs think about engagement and productivity – shifting their focus away from performance to trust. And as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. 


Creating hybrid working models that inspire people to put in discretionary effort will involve ongoing testing, learning, and adapting.  Leaders adopting new mindsets about employee needs, as well as new strategies and tools to keep the team focused, engaged and energised.  On top of that, the Great Resignation and shifts in society are pushing organisations to adopt a more “human-centric” work model.  So here are 5 tactics for rethinking employee engagement for hybrid working:


Tactic 1 – Focus on the employee experience, not just the engagement score.  

Think of employee engagement as the end goal, and improving the employee experience as the means to that end.  I particularly like this definition of employee experience:

“the sum of the perceptions that employees have about their interactions with their employer” 

It’s an employee-centric way of thinking about the organisation, where decisions made internally consider ‘how will our people perceive this?’ ‘What impression are we giving our people if we act this way?’ Where leaders and managers put themselves in the employees’ shoes.  This can include the company’s vision and values, how it treats customers, employees, policies and the company culture, to name just a few.


So consider all touchpoints in your employee lifecycle and what [un]intentional impact those policies, decisions or systems are having on your employees’ experience. What are your people experiencing from their day to day interactions with your organisation, its systems, processes and Leaders?


Tactic 2 – Measure Employee engagement at the individual level

Employee engagement is about the willingness of an individual to put in discretionary effort, meaning engagement is a personal matter for each individual. Yet traditional surveys are anonymous, and provide data at a group level only.  This anonymity and vagueness of information doesn’t support a relationship of mutual trust and respect. 


Instead, enable managers to have quality conversations with their employees with surveys that capture their passions, motivations, expectations and the degree to which their expectations are being fulfilled.  Measuring and addressing engagement at an individual level will ensure employees have what they need to feel connected and important to your company as a whole. 


So move away from large scale anonymous surveys that require heavy administration.  At Blue Grape we use Harrison Assessments with our clients because it measures individual engagement as well as group engagement and identifies the factors that are important to each employee.


Tactic 3 – Consider employee engagement as a shared responsibility 

Traditionally we’ve thought of employee engagement as the responsibility of the organisation and Leaders. But it’s not the sole responsibility of the manager to go around “engaging” people.  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. 


Seeing engagement as a shared responsibility means considering whether the employee’s behaviours and tendencies support their passions, motivations and expectations.  In some cases, their behaviours may support their expectations, but in other cases, their behaviours may hinder the fulfilment of their expectations. 


This approach has the opportunity to further develop a trusting and adult relationship between employees and Managers; as well as helping Managers put themselves in the employees’ shoes. Imagine how Managers could identify people most at risk of disengagement or leaving and take targeted action to retain them.


Tactic 4 – Employee engagement needs more than just extrinsic motivation

Traditionally many people thought of employee engagement and motivation in terms of activities, facilities or benefits – parties, lunches, employee games, tournaments, and competitions. These types of extrinsic motivators are designed to motivate performance or behaviour by getting something in return, or avoiding something unpleasant.  


In this hybrid world, we can’t rely on our traditional extrinsic motivators that revolved around physical locality, activities and events.  However research shows us that intrinsic motivators can outweigh a lack of extrinsic ones, and can be more influential than extrinsic motivators too. So switch focus to intrinsic motivators such as Leadership (recognition, autonomy, and engagement in the work itself) and organisational culture (respect, trust, and rapport).  All of which remain ever present in a hybrid working model.


Tactic 5 – Equip your leaders with the necessary capabilities 

The role of leaders and managers is critical to the employee experience. In the hybrid world, leadership is just as important, but within a very different context.  With less physical contact, we become more reliant on virtual contact and connections.


Communication is a messy business and when we’re trying to do this remotely we’re reliant on only a proportion of our senses to interpret meaning. Every word and glance carries social meaning – a threat or reward response – which can increase or decrease psychological safety.  So although I agree, Leadership communication capabilities, emotional intelligence and empathy have become even more important (as if they were NOT important all along); there is something else more fundamental we need to equip our leaders with too.


We need to help managers develop their self acceptance, their comfort with ambiguity and their ability to manage stress.  Before thinking about leading others in a hybrid environment, we need our leaders to feel psychologically safe themselves.  Only then can we ask them to create an environment where others feel psychologically safe too, with frequent and safe one-on-one and team conversations, dialogue, and open discussions where assumptions are challenged.


Employee engagement has been a key focus of CEOs for a number of years, but the accelerated move to Hybrid Working has brought new attention. What we used to believe about employee engagement needs to move with the times.  Neuroscience has taught us so much more about human beings, you can avoid making the same age-old mistakes by using these five tactics to rethink employee engagement for Hybrid Working.

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