Finding ways to engage employees in the modern age

engage employees

Need to know:

  • Employees are becoming less likely to see their employer as a trusted source of information, which can impact meaningful engagement.
  • Regular meetings, using technology to the employer’s advantage, can be integral in maintaining a collaborative culture, even with the growing number of home-workers.
  • Taking the time to analyse an organisation’s workforce, creating a multi-dimensional image of its needs, can help create an effective, engaging benefits package.
  • Thinking about employees as individuals when building strategy, and allowing them to make individual choices, can ensure motivation and loyalty.

The digital age is breaking down old dynamics and forging new ones. Employers used to be a trusted source of information for their workforce. However, these days, people are more likely to look to Google to find out about their pension or how to manage their finances.

Only 7% of employees saw their employer as a destination for advice and guidance on financial issues, according to Generation Why?, a May 2018 survey by Barnett Waddingham.

“What happened to this trusted relationship with the employer as a source of information? It seems to have dwindled away,” asks Damian Stancombe, partner at Barnett Waddingham.

In this environment, finding ways to meaningfully engage with workers can feel more challenging than ever. Workers who are not engaged can drain productivity and, feeling less loyalty to their employer, are likely to move around more regularly.

The good news is that the changing dynamics of the modern workforce give employers more opportunities to engage employees in targeted and innovative ways.

While much is changing, some engagement principles remain perennially valid. Here are five ways to engage employees successfully in the modern age.

Maintain a collaborative culture

With an increasing proportion of staff working from home, it can be difficult to successfully maintain thorough communication and engagement. “There is an aspect of getting leaders and managers used to remote working – how do you get the best of people who are not always physically there with you?” asks Yves Duhaldeborde, director at Willis Towers Watson.

To engage employees with business strategy and the end goal, regular meetings with focused agendas, either via Skype or in a face to face context, are key, says Duhaldeborde. Using collaborative tools such as Workplace and Yammer is another effective way to keep projects on track.

Nevertheless, employers should bear in mind that home workers are not necessarily less engaged, notes Duhaldeborde: “Among quite a few clients, we have seen higher levels of engagement for people who work remotely. Intuitively, you would think remote workers hear less, but probably they are very attentive to what’s going on, taking the time to read emails on business performance and strategy more than other workers, who are more in the flow of client work and the office environment.”

Take a step back

Technology gives HR professionals some considerable advantages they have never had access to before. It allows employers to get to know their employees on a deeper level, and understand what motivates them as individuals. So, instead of jumping in with benefits offerings, why not take a step back?

Before an organisation can begin to boost wellbeing, productivity, loyalty and the many other factors that can be affected by increased levels of engagement, it must understand the unique issues facing its workforce. This allows an employer to tailor its communication and engagement strategies, so as to be cost-effective and have the most impact possible on its employees.

As Stancombe says: “You have got to understand what problems you have in your organisation to begin with, before you start thinking about what a solution looks like. Think about what you know about your members: you know where they live, their age, gender, how much you pay them. The amount of data you hold about these individuals is relatively limited.”

However, if HR teams start bringing in outside data, from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), for example, and overlaying it with the claims that are coming through for the benefits they offer, they might be better placed to build three dimensional models of their workforce, says Stancombe.

Adding a sentiment survey to the mix could provide HR teams with an even better and more rounded understanding of the workforce they are catering to.

Throughout all of this, organisations should prepare for surprises, says Stancombe. “Go underneath the surface in your questions and prepare to be shocked by the answers. Because, most likely, your perspective that wellbeing is great will come tumbling down.”

With a well-rounded perspective on the issues affecting workers, as well as information on what they currently do and do not value, employers will be in a much better position to offer benefits that staff will truly appreciate.

Make it personal

In their non-working lives, workers are used to being targeted by sophisticated retailers with a very clear picture of who they are and how they shop. “Generic communications are now just spam,” says Stancombe. “Don’t be shy about trying to personalise messaging. Drop it down to the retail level that we, as consumers, expect. It has to be light and not text heavy.”

Employers should not only be considering the personal, day-to-day experience of the employee when it comes to communications, but should also be doing so when considering the organisation’s core values themselves.

“It’s easy to put together values, but nobody thinks about what it means for the employee on the front line, and a disconnect arises,” says Debi O’Donovan, director of the Reward & Benefits Association.

Give people options

To maximise the impact of their efforts to engage employees, organisations should empower workers by giving them the ability to pick and choose the benefits that best meet their needs. As individuals, they will need access to different benefits at different times in their lives.

In many instances, the employee themselves is the best person to make decisions about what suits them, and a benefits package should reflect this.

“There will be core benefits that I have to offer, as an employer, like a pension. Then offer a suite of benefits – some of them are paid for, some are voluntary. Let an individual do some self-diagnosis,” suggests Stancombe.

Remember the basics

Technology is amazing in many ways, but it is important not to forget the basics. “It is all very well to say, ‘We have all this technology and platforms and data’, but if you really want to engage people, there is nothing to beat face to face. There is only so much you can do via apps and surveys. You have to talk to people,” says O’Donovan.

She adds: “The strongest examples of wellbeing are when someone in an organisation champions going out and talking to staff, instead of hiding behind an engagement survey. Use a survey as well, but take a two-pronged approach. Even if you are thinking about millennials, nothing beats good old-fashioned recognition. How often do line managers say thank you to staff? In [their] team, do [they] know the names of people’s partners and children? Do [line managers] ask how they are?”