If you once had a dedicated and highly-productive team, but are now struggling to find the staff you need, you’re not alone. In New Zealand, staffing shortages are at an all-time high. Workers are shopping around for better money to pay for increased living costs and young Kiwis are spreading their wings for overseas
While strong employee engagement won’t change the environment we’re in, it may well be one of the defining features of organisations that survive and thrive over the coming years. The global pandemic, war in Europe, climate emergency, economic challenges and political uncertainty of recent times have had a profound impact on most Kiwi businesses.
These fundamental changes have also altered the thinking of employees when it comes to what’s important and valued. That‘s why it’s now essential to review and refresh your efforts to engage and retain employees. Things that worked well a few years ago can now seem out of place or even ‘tone deaf’ and insulting.
To help you get started on revisiting your strategies, here are some of the recent employee engagement trends reported by top HR professionals and people leaders.
Most employees are facing unprecedented challenges in their lives. Some challenges are widely shared, while others can be quite unique. Successful organisations have realised the importance of checking on how employees are doing.
If your organisation values employee engagement, then genuine understanding and caring in the workplace should now be an integral part of your modus operandi. Fostering a culture of empathy and encouraging greater compassion may take some time, but there will be small steps you can take immediately to get things underway.
Like most change, building compassion in the workplace needs to be leadership led. It may also affect everything from policies and procedures to people leader development programmes. To get the ball rolling in a fun way, your next company event could simply be a random acts of kindness day.
When people are struggling, trivial trinkets and low-level perks can feel wide of the mark. Fundamental needs are a higher priority for many employees right now, and likely to remain so for some time to come. Everyone is facing their own challenges and some are deeply personal. Providing benefits that enable individual choices is likely to be more appreciated than the likes of free office snacks.
Health insurance and free access to confidential mental health support services are the types of meaningful benefits that drive employee engagement these days. If that’s beyond your budget, consider introducing additional paid time off for things like childcare, taking elderly parents to appointments or simply meeting tradespeople to get an urgent project sorted. It’s the sort of thing that reduces employee stress, lifts productivity and fosters long-term loyalty.
The Boost employee benefit programme is another way to increase engagement by providing employees with benefits they really need. It offers meaningful discounts from more than 40 top brands, including insurance, homeware, DIY and holiday providers.
For decades organisations encouraged the idea of finding your work/life balance. It acknowledged that everyone had their own ideal balance point, depending on their priorities and commitments. This idea of balance implied work and life competed with each other.
Today, an increasing number of employees are more interested in making work part of their life in ways that suit them. So how do you help enable work/life integration for those who seek it? Here are some starter ideas.
Highlighting the purpose of your organisation and the work employees do to support it helps them to see where your mission, goals and values align with their own. This is particularly important for many younger people, such as millennials, who may even take a pay cut to work for an organisation they believe in. Prioritising investment in shared goals and values, such as reducing your carbon footprint or building stronger communities, also builds employee engagement.
Giving employees more freedom to manage where and when they work is another powerful enabler of work/life integration. It involves a shift from managing and rewarding employee attendance or time, to a focus on outputs instead. This can be a challenge for more traditional leaders. They may need some initial professional development in leading a team of remote or flexi-time employees.
Technology and online tools are great enablers of work/life integration. They often completely remove the need for employees to be in the same place or working at the same time, in order to get things done. Communication and collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom and Google Docs are all widely used and their uptake has accelerated exponentially during Covid-19.
Giving and receiving feedback as a people leader is an important part of building employee engagement. Many employees value opportunities to learn and improve. They’ll often choose one employer over another, based on the learning and personal growth opportunities involved.
Providing quality feedback as a people leader goes well beyond a few casual “well dones”. It’s a valuable skill, especially when it comes to critical or constructive feedback, and may need to be included in some leaders’ development plans.
Equally important is encouraging employees to provide feedback and for leadership to act on it. The global pandemic increased the amount of two-way feedback in many organisations, simply because there was no playbook on what to do. Leaders had to call for ideas from all quarters, in order to find solutions that worked for employees, the business and their customers. Those who adapted fast enough have survived.
Two-way or 360-degree feedback involves employees in the organisation’s development. When they see their ideas put into practice, or at least adapted in some way, it’s much more engaging and rewarding than simply completing tasks they’re assigned. Even if their ideas or suggestions are not implemented, they’ve at least had the chance to put them forward, understand why they didn’t lead to change and move on.
Acknowledging and openly showing appreciation for the contributions employees make is another powerful enabler for lasting employee engagement. Many successful organisations have a widely-used peer recognition programme.
The goal is to ensure employee recognition is frequent, prompt, personalised, inclusive and visible. The contributions you’re recognising should be aligned to your organisation’s values, so you’re rewarding the things that matter. Employee recognition also celebrates your organisation’s wins, big or small. This creates an environment of success that’s driven by employees.
How you enable employee recognition will depend on how your organisation operates. If you have remote workers, for example, it may need to be online to ensure it’s timely. If a team shares the same physical workspace, you could even have an old-school hand-bell people ring before publicly acknowledging someone’s contribution to a ‘hot off the press’ success.
Recognising employee contributions builds self-esteem and team morale, while making it clear that employees are appreciated and their work makes a difference.