What future employee engagement challenges can employers expect?

Need to know:

  • The Covid-19 pandemic has created several employee engagement challenges both now and for the future.
  • Employers must prepare for the changing work landscape to fully engage employees.
  • Employers will need to manage the engagement needs of differing groups of employees; those returning from furlough, for example, will have different needs to those who have remained in the workplace.

Many organisations have been forced to take measures that have had a major impact on their employees during the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic; many employees have had to work remotely, while some employers have had to furlough staff or make redundancies in order to deal with the financial ramifications of the pandemic.

The pandemic has also opened up several employee engagement challenges for the future that employers must deal with if they are to smoothly transition back when recovering from the situation.

Changing work landscape 

Willis Towers Watson’s Covid-19 pulse survey – Great Britain and Western Europe, published in April 2020, found that 42% of businesses are planning to make drastic changes to their engagement strategy due to the predictions of the changing work landscape. Employers face a challenge both now and in the future to ensure that they are engaging with employees effectively during the transition to a new way of working.

This creates a significant challenge for employers looking to the future. Jo Moffatt, managing director at communications agency Woodreed, says: “Businesses are setting out to rebuild a new future, it’s a massive change project. The past two months have been a huge change for all businesses, so what employers choose to do with the future is on an even grander scale, and for longer as well.

“Employers need to recognise that they can’t forget the things that they have done during the course of this crisis. They must continue to find ways to become agile if they are to engage and communicate well with employees in the future.”

Flexible-working arrangements, regular catch-ups and pulse surveys are all initiatives that employees may expect once the Coronavirus pandemic passes.

Many businesses have embraced the new world of technology, and those who have not, have had to catch up drastically, says Sinead Healy, founder at employee appreciation firm Fan Club Recognition.

“A lot of businesses will look to invest in communication and engagement, but the difficulty is that many may not have a strategy to begin with,” she says. “Are these tools being used well and effectively enough? That’s a challenge for many businesses looking to delve into the world of engagement. There are specific tools that are effective only for certain instances.”

Re-engaging employees

Another engagement challenge that businesses face in the future is re-integrating furloughed employees back into the workforce. During this time, furloughed staff may feel neglected and cut off from the rest of the business if they have not been included in regular catch-ups, making it difficult to re-engage them.

Peter Meyler, associate and head of human resources analytics at Barnett Waddingham, says: “Furloughed employees are feeling worried about their current situation and are more likely to believe that they’re going to be made redundant at some point in the future. They also feel that their employer is not supporting their mental health and financial health in comparison to those who are working.

“The engagement challenge going forward is how to bring these two groups back together in a way that is going to help an organisation start to get back to something that resembles a normal operation.”

Once furloughed employees return to work, job security will be a huge concern for them. It is then important for organisations to engage and communicate regularly with these employees bringing them back into the workforce, and passing some responsibility over to them.

“Pulse surveys and check-ins are important to decrease the chances of employees worrying during this time and in the future,” says Meyler. “This could improve their productivity and mental health.”

Engagement post Covid-19

Many organisations that are looking to get employees back into the workplace may well be focusing on health and safety, and the logistical aspects of returning to work but they may overlook offering emotional and mental support.

If employers do not address this, it could be a notable engagement challenge. “We’ve been encouraging employers to push a two-way communication system, as well as pulse surveys to grasp what employees are feeling,” says Meyler. “And also having the right conversations with people about what they would like to see.”

Communicating in the right way, with the right intentions to engage employees, will be important in the new working landscape. Trust also plays an important part in this transition to engage employees.

“The organisations that will come out of this in the best way are the ones that understand the need to communicate with their team better and recognise [the need] to treat their people as individuals,” says Moffatt. “The ones that will continue to engage with people are the ones that will realise that they need to focus on the things that matter to their employees.”

Employees are more likely to embrace new technology in the future due to the current move by businesses to online communications, says Karen Bolan, head of engagement at AHC.

“We’re already seeing a huge acceleration through online channels; the Coronavirus pandemic will only accelerate that,” she explain. “It will further encourage employers to accelerate this sort of engagement that we’ve been doing for the past 12 weeks, into future practices.”

The pandemic has forced businesses to be pushed in a direction that has paved the way for successful employee engagement in the future. Employers must continue to build on these measures and ongoing opportunities in order to offer a valuable employee experience in the new working landscape.