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How can businesses drive employee engagement during change? 8 tips for HR leaders

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Employee engagement stands at just 8% across the UK. In reality, that means if you have a team of 20, just one will be fully engaged.

In fact, the UK has the lowest engagement rates when ranked against the US, Australia and France to name a few.

It’s always been a challenge to shift low employee engagement and something HR leaders have attempted to remedy over the years.

However, when the pandemic took hold, it gave HR leaders the opportunity to lead from the front and provide new initiatives and tools to employees in an attempt to drive engagement during the biggest period of uncertainty in a generation.

In fact, 65% of HR leaders say they’ve played a vital role in driving change and enabling remote working and supporting wellbeing during this time, our ‘HR in the moment’ research found – all factors in elevating engagement.

Now, HR leaders can build on the progress they’ve made with these new initiatives to move the needle on employee engagement.

Let’s take a look at how they can get there during times of rapid change.

Here’s what we cover:

1. Communicate frequently with tailored messaging

2. Listen, understand and respond to your employees’ needs

3. Acknowledge your people and their performance

4. Conduct regular performance reviews

5. Provide flexibility on a business and individual level

6. Don’t forget employee learning and development

7. Continue building an agile work environment

8. Consider what extra support you can give

Good employee communication is absolutely critical in times of change.

According to an Accountemps survey, 33% of HR managers said ‘lack of open, honest communication’ has the most negative impact on employee morale. Yet 60% of companies don’t have a long-term internal communications strategy.

Transparency goes hand-in-hand with employee trust, so maintaining regular, useful communication is essential in keeping employees engaged and motivated.

In addition, remote employees might need more communication than those in the office to keep them in the loop with any operational changes.

Also, taking the time to personalise emails and portal content not only makes sure that relevant and well-explained information gets to the right people, it also engages staff on a personal level, so employees feel seen and valued.

While communicating regularly is the right thing to do, it shouldn’t be one way.

Organisations should listen, understand and respond to what their employees need, never more so than during times of change. Employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work, and 96% believe that employee retention can be improved by showing empathy.

2020 has highlighted like never before the support employees need to maintain wellbeing, and HR and People leaders were instrumental in conveying company empathy and personal support to staff. This needs to continue throughout 2021 and beyond.

Use surveys and feedback to run People analytics and gain actionable insights so you can improve processes and provide further support where needed, to give a well-rounded employee experience.

Lack of recognition is one of the key demotivators for staff, and 69% of employees say they would work harder if they felt more appreciated at work.

But on the flip side, high recognition and engagement can generate a strong emotional commitment to an organisation.

Saying ‘thank you’ on a regular basis is exactly what employees need to be hearing more of. Recognise them for their hard work and their value in what has been an incredibly tough time.

Looking forward to some of the key objectives for the year is also a good way of engaging employees on all levels, helping them to understand what’s expected and motivating them for the goals ahead.

Less than a third of employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.

Waiting for mid-year and year-end reviews is often too late, particularly where goals and objectives could move in times of rapid change.

Instead, boost employee productivity and engagement by shifting to continuous performance processes and matching individual goals to wider company objectives.

This not only provides employee recognition where it’s due, it also nurtures individual talent to progress career development and loyalty.

In addition, it’s a good time for them to flag anything that might be affecting how engaged they are on a regular basis.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of employers report that when they do offer flexible working, it has a positive impact on staff motivation and engagement.

From the complexities of juggling work and home-schooling, to simply taking regular screen breaks – the pandemic has highlighted just how much employees need flexibility from their workplaces in order to maintain engagement and employee wellbeing.

Think about what flexibility – both formal and informal – you can offer, such as permanent remote working, compressed hours, flexible start and finish times, or reduced hours.

If not done so already, include a policy on flexible working guidelines and share these with employees, as well as providing managers with guidance of what informal flexible working initiatives they can provide to drive up engagement.

Employees spent a staggering 130% more time learning in March/April 2020 than they did in January/February, according to research by LinkedIn.

It suggests that employees value learning and development even more during times of rapid change.

If you’ve been trying to get new learning and development programmes off the ground, now could be the perfect time.

If you are, be mindful of remote working. You’ll want your employees to be able to have the same outcomes from the training whether they’re in an office or remote.

If you already have a learning and development programme that works in place, highlight to employees through regular communications where they can find learning resources and ask managers to do the same.

Fewer than 20% of employees say they work for an agile organisation.

However, in times of change, short-term goals can be easier to focus on, and agile ways of working makes this much easier to drop what you were doing and pick up the most important project at the time.

HR leaders have a real opportunity to continue to build on what they started during the pandemic.

Over the past year, HR and People teams have been able to adapt and pivot depending on their priorities.

Now, not only should they continue the momentum, they should also lead by example and support the organisation to be more agile to drive resilience.

You can help your remote and flexible workers to connect and collaborate with co-workers as seamlessly as possible.

Smart technologies and collaboration tools work in real time, so employees can swap lost email chains for instant messages, and work on shared documents simultaneously, instead of being siloed.

Humans are creatures of habit and we’re instinctively risk averse, so when change comes, it can throw us off course. It means the support that was there for employees to keep them happy, engaged and productive might not be enough anymore.

Resources you can give your employees to self-serve – such as wellbeing support numbers that employees have access to, and updates on benefits or new schemes – will enable employees to be able to put their wellbeing first.

HR echoing these in all-hands calls and raising wellbeing as a priority can also help to show your employees they are valued and supported when they need it most.

Empower your employees by putting them first

2020 proved to be a challenging year for organisations near and far.

But HR themselves, the C-suite and employees all recognise the work HR has done to support their organisations through these unprecedented times and the positive impact they’ve had.

With more employees working from home than ever before, employees with commitments needing more flexibility to get the work-life balance they need, and putting employee wellbeing an ongoing priority, HR leaders need to look to engagement to drive productivity up.

HR leaders who look to elevate engagement will naturally find themselves with a more resilient workforce. If your people feels valued at the times when it matters most to them, they’ll be there doing what they do best to drive organisational success.

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