An employee engagement strategy is an actionable plan for measuring and managing employee engagement levels, so as to ensure the success of the broader business strategy. It links employee engagement to clearly defined business outcomes, identifies the most important drivers of engagement that relate to those outcomes, and provides managers with the insights they need to take action and make positive changes.
Business leaders increasingly recognize that employee engagement is central to business success. Without a clear approach to measuring and managing engagement, they struggle to retain the people that their organization needs – and which their performance depends on.
Employee engagement strategies have received far greater attention at C-suite level as we navigate an increasingly competitive skills economy – and as customers have come to demand more personalized and responsive experiences. However, 2020 represents their greatest challenge yet, and leaders must adapt their employee engagement strategies to a new ‘normal’.
This new working environment is one where many employees are working remotely, experience new stressors and uncertainty, and are no longer able to communicate face-to-face with colleagues and managers.
This is why it has never been more important for leaders to be clear about why employee engagement matters, to understand how it’s changing, and how they can equip managers with actionable insights to increase engagement in their own teams.
The essential characteristics of a good employee engagement strategy
An effective employee engagement strategy focuses on driving business success by improving employee motivation, productivity and innovation, rather than just reporting on engagement levels. It is action-oriented, and designed to identify the steps managers can take. It turns employee engagement from a vague concept into a specific set of KPIs with insights and recommendations to improve them.
Strategies to increase employee engagement focus on the following outcomes:
1. Employees feel connected to the business strategy
A shared sense of purpose keeps leadership and employees connected in challenging times. If employees understand and identify with their company’s strategy, they are likely to deliver better customer experiences, which lead to increased loyalty and lifetime value, as well as stronger brands.
2. Employees feel that they are developing and progressing
Our data shows that one of the most important indicators of an employee leaving a business is the feeling that they are no longer being challenged. Employees need a sense of progress and personal growth. For remote workers, separated from their colleagues, this sense of being on a professional journey is even more important. Without professional human contact, it’s easy to lose motivation.
3. Employees feel able to discuss pay and remuneration
Pay is one of the most emotive issues in any workplace. However, our data suggests that the amount of money isn’t the only thing that determines employee engagement levels and loyalty — it’s also the ability to discuss pay in a constructive way. When employees understand the rationale behind what they earn, and feel that future earnings are within their own hands, their engagement increases. This could be particularly relevant at a time when many employees are struggling to balance remote working with family commitments. Flexible working packages could help to relieve pressure and increase engagement for many employees.
4. Managers are equipped and empowered to drive engagement
Managers are the critical link between employees and their organization – and they’re in a unique position to maintain engagement levels in changing circumstances. In truth, their ability to foster engagement within their teams depends on informative insight about where problems are and how best to address them. When businesses are able to measure engagement reliably, it helps to highlight the steps managers need to take to drive positive change.
The crucial role of engagement surveys in employee engagement strategies
An organization’s ability to draw up effective employee engagement strategies has historically been limited by the way they measure engagement. Annual surveys don’t provide the real-time insight that managers need to address problems. They capture a snapshot of one point in time and depend on employees’ memories of how they feel in general. Our approach to employee engagement surveys focuses on converting feedback into actionable insights that managers and leaders can apply in the here and now. Our surveys cover key areas such as recognition and reward, engagement with strategy, peer relationships, organizational fit, growth and goal setting.
What a changing work environment means for employee engagement
The rapid shift towards hybrid and remote working has created immediate challenges for employee engagement strategies, because it has interrupted most of the formal and informal mechanisms through which engagement traditionally takes place:
- The sudden absence of informal catch-ups and quick chats in corridors mean many employees have dramatically reduced face-time with their managers and colleagues, missing out on peer relationships and a sense of belonging.
- The need to schedule previously informal interactions puts pressure on managers’ calendars, and makes it harder to find time for coaching and mentoring
- Managers and employees have to redefine how they’ll work together on projects, with less hands-on support available and a greater requirement for people to work autonomously
- As shared spaces and work experiences disappear, company culture can come under pressure, and a sense of shared values and common purpose can start to fade
Evolving a dynamic employee engagement strategy
It’s important to remember that the fundamental characteristics of a sound employee engagement strategy haven’t changed. The mechanisms through which businesses can assess the drivers of engagement and equip managers to take action haven’t changed either. However, to develop a dynamic employee engagement strategy, organizations must guide managers on new tactics and techniques. They may also have to recalibrate what the new normal looks like in terms of their employee engagement KPIs.
Key performance indicators of an effective employee engagement strategy
1. Prioritizing employee wellbeing
The sudden adjustment to remote working, and the stress and uncertainty that surrounds it, requires businesses to focus intently on employee wellbeing. In the short term, this could involve trading off a degree of productivity for longer-term benefits in terms of engagement. It might also involve redeploying some employees’ time to ensure that their work continues to feel meaningful. At the same time, leaders need to pay close attention to the wellbeing of managers, ensuring they don’t take on too much personally when trying to relieve additional pressure for their teams. It’s difficult for managers to maintain engagement levels when they feel overwhelmed themselves.
2. Providing room for individual routines
Different people will respond to hybrid and remote working models in different ways. Managers will need to be flexible in identifying which employees require more hands-on support, and which feel fulfilled taking on more responsibility and cutting down on communication time.
3. Recognizing new types of achievement
Recognition plays an important role in employee engagement strategies. The challenge that many organizations face when building their engagement strategy is that the framework that they usually use to recognize employee achievement has now changed. Sales targets are more difficult to meet. Customer service teams are under intense pressure to retain clients. Everywhere employees are faced with doing more with fewer resources. Rather than waiting for performance levels to return, organizations may need to reframe how they recognize, and celebrate, achievement in line with the current situation.
4. Ensuring inclusivity, no matter where people work
A sense of belonging is a key component of engagement. As a growing number of businesses adopt all-remote or hybrid working models, it’s important to ensure that employees feel included and supported, no matter where they choose to work. Organizations will need to design inclusive employee engagement activities and structures that ensure people don’t feel discriminated against as a result of choosing to work remotely.
The relationship between organizations and their employees has never faced as much disruption as it does today. However, this shouldn’t undermine a sound employee engagement strategy. The foundations and principles of managing engagement effectively remain the same. They just matter even more.