Top 11 Employee Engagement Trends In 2021 (Backed by Data)

Top-Employee-Engagement-Trends

How has employee engagement changed in 2021? How can you level up your employee engagement game? What are some latest employee engagement trends?

With those questions in mind, we’ve compiled a list of 11 employee engagement trends (backed by data) that are most likely to define employee engagement in 2021.

The most important takeaways: 

  • We need human connection now more than ever.
  • Anxiety is at record levels, and organizations need to address it. 
  • Recognition is hugely important in leveling up engagement. 
  • Retaining your talent is necessary for companies to survive.

Following these will help you create a better employee engagement strategy — one that’s focused on areas such as culture, manager-employee relationships, and level of recognition.

1. Create an Inclusive and Diverse Workplace

A recent Brandon Hall Group study shows that 88% of organizations rank diversity and inclusion as a moderately or critically important driver of business results.

Diversity and inclusion are important key factors to improve business results and employee engagement. When your people feel a sense of belonging and feel their ideas and feedback are welcomed and valued, they are more engaged.

Diversity refers to the range of human differences in an organization (age, gender, race, etc.).

Inclusion refers to feelings of belonging, psychological safety, and equity.

Diversity can only sustain when an organization successfully creates a sense of belongingness for all employees. Both go hand-in-hand.

A Wall Street Journal research shows that diverse and inclusive cultures are more profitable and return more value to their shareholders.

What can organizations do if they are just starting to focus on their diversity and inclusion programs? 

Here are a few first tips that you can take to evaluate diversity and inclusion initiatives:

  • The first step you can take is to ask your team about their experience via pulse surveys and one-on-one conversations with the manager.
  • Collect the data and use analytics to analyze diversity and inclusion in your organization.
  • Review your talent management process. Ask questions like, “how are we recruiting and selecting for diverse talent?” “Are we using selection and promotion assessments that look for “culture fit”?”

It is no longer acceptable to avoid the topic of diversity and inclusion in your organization. Make D&I a priority.

2. Managing Employee Performance Effectively

As many organizations have unexpectedly become more remote, the need for modern performance management has rapidly increased.

In a recent SHRM study, 35% of HR professionals rate their performance management effectiveness at a grade of “C” or lower.

Another study found that 46% of HR tech buyers said that traditional performance management is a waste of time for employers and employees.

What does the traditional performance management approach look like? 

  • Set goals at the beginning of the year 
  • Work on those goals throughout the year 
  • Review performance at the end of the year 
  • Decide promotion and bonuses based on performance

For organizations to remain agile, they need to revamp their approach to performance management.

In the past few years, performance management has gradually been undergoing a transformation. Giants like Facebook, Adobe, Deloitte, Accenture, and KPMG have all experimented and shifted their employee performance approach in recent years.

A 2020 study conducted by Harvard Business Review found that 46% of organizations have changed their performance management processes and systems in the past year. 

How can you optimize your performance management process? Here are some primary areas to consider:

  • Have continuous conversations about employee development, wellbeing, performance, goals, and progress toward those goals.
  • Your talent review process should help managers identify best performers, rising stars, and disengaged employees.
  • Team-based performance management.
  • Employees should be a critical part of the process through shared goal-setting, multidirectional feedback, and continuous conversations.
  • HR leaders must ask these questions: Do our employees have all the tools and resources they need to perform at their highest level? Do our managers have what they need to be successful performance coaches?

The transformation of performance management:

TraditionalModern
Annual reviewsMonthly 1:1 conversations
Individual goalsTeam-based goals
Ratings360-degree feedback
Improvement plansCoaching and training
Performance-focusedEngagement focused

3. Set Specific Goals That Get Results

Goal setting is one of the most important approaches by which organizations get work done. Clear and transparent goal setting is important to employee engagement. 

According to study, 8 in 10 employees stated when goals and accountabilities are clear, employees are 2.8x more likely to be highly engaged.

But there are some limitations with goals as well. Wrong and unspecific goals can lead to unhealthy risk-taking, loss of motivation, lack of learning, and unethical behaviors. Goals alone don’t keep employees motivated and on the right track. Support goals with ongoing feedback. It helps employees to check their performance, progress and change the approach as needed.

Here are some key points to remember:

  • Managers and employees should collaborate on goal setting to determine feasibility, bottlenecks, priorities, and timelines.
  • Align employee goals to the team and organizational goals. It allows employees to understand what is important and where the company is going.
  • Make crystal clear expectations around goals, such as process, timeline, goal updates, feedback, and more.
  • Team leaders should monitor, track, and discuss goal progress. They should coach their teams and support for goal accomplishment.
  • Managers should also discuss employees’ professional development goals and provide coaching and resources that support their goals.

4. Improve Manager Effectiveness

In a recent study by Harvard Business Review, employees named managers as the biggest barrier to deriving business value from employee engagement, and 42% said their managers don’t know how to have effective development conversations with employees.

In a Quantum Workplace study, 2 in 3 managers said they didn’t receive any training when they entered a management role.

This is a big problem because manager effectiveness impacts employee engagement. These people leaders need help and support from senior management to effectively coach employees. When leaders coach and support managers, managers become better coaches to their teams, and employees are more successful.

Great managers can coach a team toward success and help their employees find pathways to grow and develop. When employees have favorable perceptions of their managers, they are much more engaged.

Here are some practices to improve manager effectiveness:

  • Connect with your team on a human level. Ask about their wellbeing, check-in on their day, and talk about work barriers or opportunities.
  • Set clear expectations on team behaviors, individual roles, goal setting, and performance levels.
  • Feedback should be a continuous process focused on the positive progress made, with some suggestions and improvements.
  • Most of the employees don’t clearly understand how their performance is measured. Sit with employees and choose key performance indicators (KPIs) that show high performance or goal attainment.

5. Use Technology to Empower Teams

Teamwork is one of the central pillars of employee engagement. Perceptions of teamwork, collaboration, and respect from team members have an impact on employee engagement.

teamwork

A meta-analysis study of virtual teams found that coordination and communication are two critical elements to team success.

Technology is increasingly mediating and improving teamwork for all types of teams by helping them: 

  • Set and track goals 
  • Collaborate virtually 
  • Recognize peers
  • Facilitate feedback 
  • Measure team effectiveness 
  • Improve team communication 
  • Manage tasks and projects

Organizations should build a safe space, clear boundaries, build trust, and a shared understanding of culture across the team.

6. Invest In Employee Growth and Development

According to our Best Places to Work data, when employees see professional growth and career development opportunities, they are 2.5x more likely to be highly engaged than those who do not.

Employee development is a consistent driver of employee engagement. Employees expect that the company will help them grow their skills, develop their careers, and offer career pathways to progress their careers.

A LinkedIn study found that 94% of employees said they would stay longer at a company that is invested in their career development.

For many people-first organizations, their employee growth and development opportunities are their best retention tools. 

Here are some ideas:

  • Organize a book club
  • Start a mentorship program
  • Invest in an industry expert from your network
  • Pay for employees’ online classes or courses
  • Have a professional development fund

7. Support Employee Health and Wellness

According to a study, when employees believe their workplace supports their health & wellbeing, they are 3.5x more likely to be highly engaged than those who do not.

According to a Buffer Survey, 19% of remote employees report loneliness as their biggest challenge.

Work can often be a primary source of stress. Good management practices and strong wellbeing programs can often improve work-life balance and workplace stress. 

At Springworks, we offer unique benefits like wellness classes and coaching, meditation sessions, and nap time during the day. We have a focus on managing burnout, removing distractions from the workplace, and improving work-life balance.

Here are some ideas to support the mental health of your employees:

  • Start mental health training and sessions
  • Conduct team-building activities and games to encourage your employees to connect socially
  • Encourage your people to do some exercise, walking, stretching, and Yoga daily.
  • Offer flexible working hours
  • Provide your employees a yoga class subscription
  • A gift of a mindfulness app subscription-like Headspace

8. Value and Recognize Employees for Their Contributions

When asked what leaders could do to improve engagement, 58% of professionals endorsed giving recognition.

Employees want to feel valued at work. They want appreciation for their contributions to the team and organizational success. Recognition is not just to make employees more engaged and feel good about their job. It can be a differentiator for organizations in their employee value proposition and can affect an employee’s intent to stay at an organization. 

A study by SHRM found that a majority of HR professionals stated that their recognition programs positively impact retention (68%) and recruitment (56%).

Despite the clear benefits of employee recognition, many employees are not receiving enough recognition and value from their direct managers or their peers for their contributions.

When recognition is public and available to all employees, it doesn’t just make the sender and receiver feel good—it helps the rest of the organization understand the types of behaviors that are appreciated and rewarded and helps bring company values to life.

9. Build an Employee Listening Program

Management and senior leaders need data and information to make more informed, evidence-based decisions, such as: 

  • What resources or tools do our employees need to be more productive? 
  • Who are our top performers? 
  • How can we ensure our people programs are meeting the needs of our business? 

Josh Bersin, Global Industry Analyst, put it best:

“Employees are the most valuable source of information about what’s working (and what’s not) in any business. If you create a wide variety of channels for feedback, you’ll get an enormous wealth of help making the company perform better.”

How can you gather this data from the workforce? There are multiple channels to collect this information.

Pulse surveys: Pulse surveys are short employee surveys on a specific topic. They allow managers and leaders to get a quick snapshot of employee perceptions about a particular subject. 

Use pulse surveys to follow up on key drivers of engagement, ask about new employee experience areas, and drive more continuous employee listening.

One-on-one Conversations: One-on-one conversation is an excellent method by which managers can listen to their employees and individualize action to their team . These can be short check-ins or more formal meetings with agendas and action plans.

Annual Surveys: The annual survey is a popular channel to understand the employees’ needs and perceptions. According to a recent study by HBR, 36% of organizations say they measure employee engagement once a year. 

10. People Analytics

Measurement alone is not enough to improve employee engagement. People managers and HR professionals need to be analytical storytellers that can connect data to the outcomes that matter most to leaders.

According to research, many managers are not doing action planning, and 31% of respondents disagreed that managers were talking with their teams about engagement results.

The ultimate goal of people analytics is to drive senior leaders to take action on the metrics and help them make more evidence-based decisions. 

If an organization is having turnover challenges, for example, advanced analytics may help pinpoint the roles and teams most at risk for leaving, identify the most effective interventions to retain them, and predict future turnover. 

Analytics might help answer important business questions like:

  • Is the new onboarding program more effective at ramping up new employees? 
  • Are the new manager learning sessions helping people leaders to retain our best?

Tie your analytics to your business strategy and to the business problems that matter most to your leaders.

11. Understand and Prevent Costly Turnover

There are many estimates when it comes to calculating the cost of employee turnover. The Society for Human Resources Management suggests that these costs can range from six to nine months of the existing employee’s salary. 

Hard costs of turnover (easier to estimate):

  • Job advertising
  • Recruitment process and efforts
  • Relocation costs
  • Onboarding and training
  • Skill training

Soft costs of turnover (difficult to estimate):

  • Loss of team morale and productivity
  • Brand awareness
  • Increase team stress and workload
  • Cost of a bad hire

What can you do to prevent turnover cost?

Many might think additional employee perks, increased salaries, or finally installing that ping-pong table will solve their turnover problems. However, those solutions will only temporarily keep employees around. To truly reduce turnover for the long haul, it takes a cultural change.

  • Managers should have regular conversations with their team members about their intent to stay and what actions they should take to retain them.
  • Conduct regular talent reviews of the workforce to understand how retention risk and growth of their teams change over time.
  • Conduct employee exit surveys and interviews to build brand advocates and maintain business relationships

Notice people for who they are as people, for their contributions, and during key moments. When employees feel noticed, they’re more likely to stick around.

FAQs

How many questions should an employee engagement pulse survey have?

A pulse survey is a short and quick survey (5 to 15 questions) that tracks how employees are feeling. It’s replacing the traditional long surveys that employees procrastinate to fill.

What are the key drivers of employee engagement?

Here are some key drivers of employee engagement:

– Purpose and clear goals
– Resources and tools
– Work-life balance
– Company values and culture
– Pulse surveys
– Employee benefits and perks
– Diversity and inclusion
– Effective onboarding
– Communication and feedback
– Employee recognition and appreciation

Does employee engagement really drive productivity?

According to Gallup, highly engaged teams are 21% more productive than those with low engagement. Communicate the purpose of the organization, and how employees’ individual purposes fit into that purpose. In this guide, you’ll find some employee engagement trends.

What are some ideas to improve employee engagement?

In this article, you’ll discover 20 awesome employee engagement activities and ideas that you can implement right now. You’ll make more progress in improving employee engagement by using these ideas.

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