The new rules for employee engagementby
Phil Sproston takes a deep dive into the latest benchmarking data from the UK's Top Employers 2022, to ascertain how the pandemic has impacted employee engagement, and what lessons can be learned.
Evidence of the pandemic’s impact on employee engagement is starting to come through loud and clear.
New benchmarking data from the UK’s Top Employers 2022, for example, shows how work/life balance has jumped from being the 10th biggest priority for staff in last year’s data, up to second in 2022.
HR teams are being faced with finding ways to keep re-engaging with a workforce that has changed as part of the legacy of the Covid-19 years, which has led to a loosening of connections and relationships between employees, their organisation and their peers, through long periods of furlough, WFH, and hybrid working.
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Employees working remotely have become used to an increased sense of control over when, where, and how they work. More people have had time to reflect on their priorities in life, and how work fits with those priorities.
This has resulted in the erosion of the sense of belonging that comes naturally with going into the workplace each day.
Employees working remotely have become used to an increased sense of control over when, where, and how they work.
So there are new rules of engagement, and front and centre are questions in employees’ minds around work-life balance and well-being.
What we have seen from our assessment of the HR practises and people policies of the recently certified UK Top Employers 2022, is how the best employers have responded to the new engagement – or re-engagement – challenge.
They have created a more strategic approach to engagement; moving beyond good intentions and principles in support of employee consultation and wellbeing, to measurable actions.
The blurring of work and home
Data from 84 certified Top Employers in the UK on their new and changing people practises and initiatives around engagement, provides insights into how HR strategies are evolving.
There is clear action on the blurring between work and home lives in people practises, as the below findings outline:
- 89% of employers consistently have a formal engagement strategy (which includes measurement and actions).
- 58% of certified Top Employers now guarantee employees time to “unplug” or take stress-relief breaks (compared with 44% last year).
- 65% now actively discourage use of email outside normal working hours (up from 48% last year).
- 86% give flexibility in work schedules for staff to take care of children (versus 67% last year).
- 48% now offer programmes for coping with information overload (versus 38% last year).
- 63% offer burnout recovery support (compared with 49% in last year’s data).
This has been backed up by investment in employee health and well-being, and by policies that reflect the importance of a holistic approach:
- 96% now promote physical activities (when it had been 79% in 2021).
- 98% have initiatives to raise awareness on emotional well-being.
- 83% consistently use well-being apps to help their employees.
Comparisons with HR practises and policies among approximately 1,700 Top Employers in the rest of the world, serve to highlight how the UK has been more proactive in developing its ‘well-being for engagement’ initiatives – whether that has been due to a greater belief in the benefits, or more acute sense of the demands from employees.
The results revealed the following:
- 80% of Top Employers consistently have a well-being champion to drive through initiatives (compared with an average of 59% in other countries).
- 98% have an EAP in place, compared with 71% internationally.
- 76% offer religious or spiritual facilities for worship (26%).
- 89% offer financial education (60%).
Another strong theme from the data is the value of the employee voice. It is clear that delivering change can’t be driven solely by top down campaigns.
The best employers have realised that their staff expect to be consulted more regularly, and to be treated as important stakeholders.
The best employers have realised that their staff expect to be consulted more regularly, and to be treated as important stakeholders. This is particularly pertinent since the increase in remote-working, which has given employees more trust, control, and direction over their own work.
The data suggests that change works best when it resonates at every level of an organisation:
- 89% of our UK Top Employers have “change champions” within the business (up from 61% in 2021).
- 96% communicate early with employees on high-impact changes (up from 88%).
- 83% involve them in the organisational design of work (up from 76%).
- 86% have employee focus groups to align on making improvements.
- 67% involve their employees in the design of a well-being strategy.
- 62% are now offering pulse surveys multiple times per year, and 81% are consistently offering these in addition to their annual engagement surveys (up from 69% in 2021).
One example of the value of ‘bottom up’ initiatives comes from UK Top Employer Wolseley – a plumbing supplies company who launched its new ‘Colleague Forum’ just over a year ago.
The forum involves around 150 representatives from the workforce, as well as forum reps who provide a communication channel which helps ensure all staff have a voice.
The reps also play a role in influencing how Wolseley is managed and the employee experience. Changes so far brought about by the forum include improvements to the long service policy and the creation of new company values.
HR needs to accept that relationships have changed, particularly when it comes to attitudes around work/life balance.
An example of diversity and inclusion improvements can be seen in another company that features on the UK Top Employer list.
Securitas’ nationwide D&I initiative has been run with the support of more than 100 employees, and involves the UK Country President and HR Director meeting with the staff group every month to discuss plans, progress, and agree next steps.
HR needs to accept that relationships have changed, particularly when it comes to attitudes around work/life balance and employees’ sense of belonging and involvement.
In this way, getting engagement strategies right will be essential in 2022 in making sure HR strategy is plugged into business priorities around delivering change and growth.
Enjoy this article? Checkout our Research: 'The state of employee engagement 2021'.