Workforce engagement describes how your employees feel towards your business and the work that they complete. When employees aren’t engaged, they can become cynical towards your brand, fatigued with the work they’re assigned, and they also often describe low productivity and mood.
These are all signs of burnout, and can quickly lead to an employee retention problem. Encouraging workforce engagement starts with understanding the problem, and then changing the way you think about a flourishing organization. Let’s dive in.
This article is part of our guide on workforce management.
Is workforce engagement a serious problem?
Pre COVID-19, employee engagement had been on a steady climb. According to 2021 Gallup numbers, every year since 2009 workers had said they were more engaged at work. However, for the first time in 2020 and 2021, these numbers have dropped. Employees are becoming less engaged in their workplaces.
For many, it’s the shift to remote work that is causing a lack of engagement. Rather than seeing colleagues face-to-face around the office, the majority of communications are now happening virtually. According to Forbes, 38% of remote employees feel exhausted by the amount of virtual meetings they have to attend each day, and 30% feel stressed.
Whatever the cause, it’s important for businesses to address the workforce engagement problem. The Great Resignation is causing wave after wave of employees to leave their roles in search of greener pastures, and this has exacerbated an already serious skills gap in today’s tech companies. Organizations can’t afford to lose any more great talent.
HR teams across the globe are rebuilding and optimizing their retention plans, and some are even adapting their workforce planning according to the current workforce trends.
Tips for encouraging workforce engagement
Here are some ideas that might challenge the way you think about workforce engagement, and support your organization in making smart changes to combat this growing issue.
#1 Recognize that it’s not an employee problem, it’s a workforce problem
Christina Maslach is an expert on burnout and employee engagement, and she asks clients to consider the example of a canary in a coal mine. Before the canary flies into the mine, it is bright, clean and chirping its heart out. When it comes out, it’s covered in soot, and struggling to breathe. The canaries didn’t make themselves sick, the coal mine is making them sick.
The same is true for workforce engagement. Your employees aren’t responsible for their lack of engagement. They are in an environment which is not conducive to excitement, productivity and purpose. While you can offer them mental health days or bonus paychecks – this won’t solve the problem when they return to the coal mine the next day. Ultimately, the responsibility lies with you as the employer to adapt your business to new and emerging challenges, whether that’s the skills gap, the remote working reality, or any other.
#2 Employee experience is not about benefits
Experience over benefits is also called out by the Harvard Business Review. Fortune 500 companies are spending more money than ever before on perks and benefits packages, in the region of $2,500 per employee per year. And yet they have found that workforce engagement levels don’t correlate with the benefits that companies offer their staff. Instead, employees are motivated by their feelings about the company they work for.
In particular, HBR calls out a handful of goals for today’s employers, including:
- Connecting with employees’ non-work lives: Especially post-COVID-19, workers want to feel their personal circumstances are listened to and accommodated for. The chinese wall between work and home has come crashing down, for good.
- Ensuring autonomy: Gartner calls this “radical flexibility”, going beyond choosing working hours to allow workers to decide who they work with, and on what tasks. The analyst firm found this raised the number of high-performers by 40%.
- Promoting personal growth: It’s not just about paying for or facilitating professional development any more. Employers also need to consider offering personal development such as new languages, artistic skills, or personal well-being.
#3 Help your employees to find purpose
Another important factor in workforce engagement is the feeling of purpose. The latest research from McKinsey describes a chilling call to action for today’s companies. “Help your employees to find purpose, or watch them leave.” Employees are five times more likely to be excited about working at a company that reflects on its impact in the world. “When employees feel that their purpose is aligned with the organization’s purpose, the benefits expand to include stronger employee engagement, heightened loyalty, and a greater willingness to recommend the company to others.”
There are many ways to encourage workforce engagement through a shared purpose. This is not about social initiatives outside of the workplace – although those are great, too! This is about aligning the purpose of the organization with the day-to-day work that your employees complete.
Let’s say your company creates legal software, and the product goal is to support law firms in accessing their data faster or with greater accuracy. Your employees should feel that they are contributing to a fairer, more accessible legal system overall, tapping into their own purpose. If your technology is an InsureTech product, perhaps your overall purpose is to drive down costs for the uninsured, or to help insurance companies to expand their margins. Whatever your purpose, part of your role is to communicate this shared goal to your workforce.
#4 Broaden the way you access and deliver talent to the business
If you’re struggling with workforce engagement, it might be worth considering a change to the way you think about skills and talent for your business. For example, some of the best talent out there in the market right now is freelancing. Freelancers are highly skilled and usually self-motivated to succeed, without the expectations that you will facilitate their career or personal development.
At a time where full-time employees are difficult to find, freelancers can help close the skills gap, as they work flexibly for multiple companies at the same time, spreading the wealth of their expertise. Especially when traditional employees are looking for more autonomy and flexibility than ever before, you might find that engaging freelancers for suitable projects helps you to expand your workforce without a whole lot of practical change to your day to day operations.