Employee engagement trends for 2019

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The benefits of engaged employees are well understood; they are more productive, more likely to stay, more creative, better at customer service, more profitable and generally happier.

That’s why measuring and influencing employee engagement is one of the most fundamental strategic benefits HR can bring to the bottom line of an organisation.

So what’s on the agenda for engagement savvy HR teams in 2019?

Harnessing the power of purpose

Employees know ‘what’ their job is. They can usually explain ‘how’ they achieve it. How many can clearly articulate ‘why’? That is, do they understand the organisational purpose and how they fit into it?

There’s an oft cited example that perfectly illustrates what we mean. John F. Kennedy, on a tour of NASA headquarters in 1961 at the height of the space race, stopped to speak to a janitor who was mopping the floor. Kennedy asked what the man did at NASA.

The man with the mop replied. “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”

That man understood his purpose. He believed in it and was able to state it clearly. And you can bet that the floors at NASA were shinier as a result.

Purpose comes from the top of the organisation. It comes from an organisation’s history and is reflected in words, behaviours and strategies, so for people to believe in it and articulate it clearly, business leaders must be able to do the same.

Trust in leadership

HR.com’s 2018 State of Engagement report is one of the most recent to identify ‘trust in leaders’ as the business trait most strongly connected to employee engagement. In ancient Rome, the law said that a chief architect would be the first to stand beneath a newly built arch.

Trust in leadership is damaged chiefly by poor communication, which can be perceived as secretiveness or even a lack of caring. Any perceptions of favouritism or behavioural inconsistency are equally damaging.

Like a Roman architect, today’s business leaders can inspire trust by taking responsibility for the good, and more importantly the bad of an organisation’s performance.

Healthy body, healthy business

Healthy body, healthy mind, so the saying goes. As far back as 2010, Harvard Business Review reported that comprehensive health and wellness initiatives were delivering significant ROI to the businesses that invested in them.

Group fitness challenges, standing or walking meetings, gym memberships, access to expert advice on nutrition, exercise and even financial planning. These are all elements that forward thinking organisations are building into such strategies.

Participation in such schemes is beneficial for individuals, teams and the organisations overall, and can be encouraged, but it must be voluntary.

Striking a flexible balance

The UK’s appetite for the traditional nine to five is most certainly on the wane.

In a study by Canada Life earlier this year, 77% of employees said flexible working had a positive effect on productivity. Allowing employees time to exercise, collect or drop off their children from school or start/finish earlier or later, said the report author, can make an enormous difference to their wellbeing.

Up to three quarters of UK workers would favour a flexible working arrangement. That’s according to 2018 research from Powwownow. In their study, flexible working was slightly better favoured by women than men, and significantly more by millennials then over 55s.

Empowering career development

Employees should have access to tools and resources that allow them to develop the skills they need to carry out their current job effectively. Modern HR platforms make this easily deliverable and trackable as a self serve initiative that empowers the individual to take responsibility for their development.

Forward thinking L&D strategies demonstrate that the organisation is committed to helping that person achieve their goals by identifying the future skills they will need to progress along their desired career path.

Their learning and development programme should explicitly cover these future skills. Employees who feel their employer takes a real interest in their future are more likely to show engagement and loyalty to that organisation.

Feeling the feedback

Traditional performance management is out. Those once-a-year appraisal meetings, dreaded equally by employees and line management, do very little to accurately manage performance, and achieve even less when it comes to employee engagement. The one thing you can guarantee about an annual conversation that ends in a rating (and potentially a salary decision) is that it will not be open or honest.

Insight on performance that’s gathered constantly throughout the year not only builds a richer more accurate picture, but data from Gallup indicates that regular one-to-one sessions with line managers significantly boost employee engagement. Modern HR software platforms are designed with this new approach in mind, meaning measurement and management of constant feedback performance management can be largely automated.

Digging into the data

What can statistical data science tell us about a difficult to measure concept like employee engagement? Turns out, quite a lot.

Increasingly, HR teams are equipping themselves with the ability unearth engagement insights by digging deeply into their numbers.

This is possible thanks to sophisticated analytics tools such as employee relationship software, available as part of cloud delivered HR platforms now accessible to organisations of all sizes.

These platforms bring previously disparate or unrecorded data sources together, like performance data, attendance and churn, as well as information from social media, email, telephone and other communications networks.

The application of statistical analysis to this information can reveal profound insights that inform the development of effective engagement strategy.

Analytics technology is taking much of the guesswork out of HCM strategy. Armed with analytical insights, HR teams are now able to propose employee engagement initiatives to the board, backed up by hard data rather than gut instinct.