Melanie Wilkes: What will the future of work mean for employee engagement?

Employee engagement is fundamental to good work, and is a driver of business performance. As we think about how to maximise the opportunities of the changing economy and labour market over the coming decade, it should be at the front of our minds.

In 2009, the McLeod Review found that a significant percentage of the workforce felt disconnected from the work they did and the people they worked for. This was a wake-up call for many employers, and 10 years on, employee engagement is recognised as a pillar of responsible practice that is beneficial for both individuals and the organisations they work for. For example, September 2018 Work Foundation research into the NHS found that higher engagement among staff was associated with improved retention, lower levels of sickness absence and presenteeism, and crucially, better patient experience and outcomes.  

As we look ahead to the next 10 years, we face a changing labour market, and need to think about how we can develop meaningful engagement within this evolving landscape.

Our January 2018 research exploring the role of technology in shaping the future of work, Productivity, technology and working anywhere, emphasised the importance of employee engagement in managing organisational change. As businesses explore the opportunities digital technologies present, from automating standardised low-skilled tasks to embedding flexible and remote working, they should consider that consultation with workers will be essential to the sustainability of business transformation. This could entail, for example, collaborating with teams to identify the apps or programmes that would be best suited to their responsibilities and tasks.

And as societal demand for services like education, health and social care continues to grow, an increased focus on good management practices and improving workplace culture will be key to ensuring effective employee engagement in these sectors, as will tackling constraints on financial and physical resources and staffing levels, so that those working in these roles can be better connected to their organisation’s aims and purpose and, as a result, public expectations can be met.

By continuously seeking to improve how they engage their employees, organisations will give themselves the best chance of becoming more productive and resilient to the economic and social change that is expected over the coming decade.

Melanie Wilkes is senior policy adviser at The Work Foundation