Blog Engagement

Why employee engagement is more important for HR in 2021 than ever before

Twelve months ago employee engagement was one of the buzzwords of HR. Now, a year later it, along with wellbeing, has become the number one priority for many. 

We've all been through it this past year and the world of work has changed dramatically, with many changes likely to last years. 

Yet those changes have both positives and negatives. With the increased flexibility afforded by remote work for example, comes the lack of manager-employee face-to-face time. With a slew of new, innovative tools and processes can come confusion and anxiety. 

Change is usually a mix of bad and good depending on context and perspective. While we embraced the great elements the new world of work offers us, we must keep an eye on the issues it can raise, employee engagement being one key area that can be impacted. 

That's why making employee engagement an HR priority is absolutely essential in 2021.

Why employee engagement is more vital than ever

To say there's been a lot going on in the past year would be the understatement of the century. Across the world, people and businesses are still reeling from COVID-19. Although some employees have been able to return to work, many are still in some form of lockdown, either working remotely, on the front lines in essential services, or not at all. 

Employee engagement and remote work can go together like jam on toast. 

But remote work comes with its own challenges, especially when it's part of social distancing. People aren't socialising like they're used to, and a lack of human interaction can be disastrous for mental health. And, for remote workers, this disconnect can also make them feel isolated from their colleagues and organisation.

Findings released by the CIPD in September highlight the need for making employee engagement an HR priority now more than ever. They show that, despite some small improvements from their April 2020 findings, there's still a high level of employee anxiety about COVID, remote working practices and the return to work. 

Although seven in ten employees were satisfied with their employer's response to COVID-19, only 55% reported being given adequate information, and just 44% had been properly consulted about returning. Just over a fifth weren't satisfied with their employer's health and safety measures, and roughly a third were anxious about catching COVID-19.

And the pandemic is far from the only cause for concern. 

Whether it's Brexit in the UK or the election controversy and political upheaval in the US, many are concerned about their long-term job security due to large scale societal events.

Making employee engagement a top priority

The chaos of the past year has exposed a serious need for businesses across the world to become more people-focused than ever before. Last year saw a huge push for employee engagement in the new normal for remote workers, which helped to show that remote infrastructures could work, legitimising job flexibility in the eyes of business leaders.

Now, the goal must be to continue supporting employees in that way, remote or otherwise. 

With so much uncertainty, it's more important than ever for employees to feel connected to their employer and the goals of the business. Other aspects of the workplace experience that employees need to be engaged include:

  • A sense of ownership over their work (which means they must benefit from business success).
  • Consistent communication and feedback.
  • Support for their wellbeing (physical, mental, social and financial).
  • A sense of autonomy over their work.
  • The flexibility to balance work with personal commitments and prevent burnout.

For these things to be assured, employee engagement needs to be a core part of workplace culture. So, in order to help the engagement-centric mindset permeate your whole business, it's essential that the push for it be led from the top-down, starting with the organisation's senior-most leaders, down through to the management level.

But managers and business leaders can't do this on their own. Helping a culture of engagement flourish in your business means making employee engagement an HR priority in 2021, as many HR policies and responsibilities directly impact employee engagement and wellbeing.

Practical employee engagement tips for HR directors

So, if making employee engagement an HR priority is the aim, then how can progressive HR directors get a jump on embedding engagement into their company culture? 

  • Establish a framework for employee feedback: While the emphasis on feedback is often perceived as a Millennial and Gen Z-based trend, the fact is that every employee can benefit from access to regular feedback to help them improve and develop. That said, a good feedback process should go both ways. It's HR's responsibility to make sure every employee has a voice in the organisation. A system for regular feedback, like an employee check-in, gives employees a chance to raise issues or seek advice.

  • Emphasise employee recognition: An employee's ability to engage as part of the business often comes down to how valued they feel within the organisation. Managers play a significant role in employee recognition, but ultimately, employees can derive value from anyone recognising their accomplishments. Setting up a highly visible recognition tool or platform is an easy way for HR leaders to support employee engagement by boosting morale and strengthening workplace social bonds.

  • Develop or improve management training initiatives: Although we shouldn't ignore the importance of making employee engagement an HR priority, managers will always be the ones to have the most direct impact. The wrong boss in the wrong place can make even the most capable of teams stumble. HR directors need to ensure that their organisation's management training is up to scratch, because giving new managers the chance to learn essential skills can make all the difference in the world.
  • Support work/life balance: One of HR's biggest responsibilities is fulfilling their duty of care to employees. But employee burnout is a real and present danger, so it's more important than ever to do more than the bare minimum. Making employee engagement an HR priority means taking steps to help employees to access care and work around appointments, stamp out presenteeism, and ensure that staff are given the opportunity to work flexibly.

Want to get more practical tips on how to drive your employee engagement strategy in 2021? Pre-order your free copy of The HRDs Playbook now for insights into real-world examples of how progressive HR directors are leading engagement programmes.