EngagementEmployee engagement considerations in 2021

Employee engagement considerations in 2021

Annabel Jones, UK HR Director of ADP, and Jeff Phipps, Managing Director, ADP UK and Ireland, discuss how leaders can build engagement, motivating teams and meeting objectives.

In this new series created in collaboration with ADP, alongside our February event ‘The Organisational Culture Agenda For 2021’, we examine key strategic work priorities in the time to come, including ways of working, health and wellbeing and employee engagement. Contributing to each article are Annabel Jones, UK HR Director of ADP, and Jeff Phipps, Managing Director, ADP UK and Ireland.

In this edition, we focus on employee engagement. Employee engagement is made up of many different parts that combine the personal and the professional: for the former, a feeling of wellbeing, a sense of progress and a belief in the work’s importance. For the latter, an investment in the organisation’s culture, an equitable workload and efficient relationships with colleagues and leaders alike.

For leaders, strong employee engagement helps answer a persistent yet difficult question: how is it possible to get the best performance from employees while enabling their wellbeing, and meeting business objectives?

The persistent events of the last year have generated a host of new challenges. Remote work has largely removed the immediacy of engagement and, often, an absence from the workplace itself; for many, workloads may have increased and anxiety over job security is rife.

With leaders looking to this year, seeing some signs of promise (including an end to the disruption wrought by COVID-19), they’re looking to solve these critical problems. Some of the key aspects include maintaining engagement through organisational agility, addressing engagement on a team-by-team basis, and focusing on team leaders.

Maintaining engagement through disruption

From ADP’s The Workforce View 2020, a surprising finding came to light; 84% of workers surveyed are still feeling optimistic about the next five years in the workplace, a reduction of only 2% on the previous year, and 75% feel ‘buoyant’ about the near future.

Pre-pandemic, many employees would’ve been concerned about organisational inflexibility and a lack of creative strategising; could it be the case that the recent disruption has forced organisations to be more agile and, as such, responsive to employees’ needs, hence the small drop in employee optimism?

Phipps addresses this pressing point; “Many challenges are going to be with (employees) for some time to come, but it’s also a time of great innovation. In our organisation, we’ve been far more willing to experiment than perhaps we were before, and I want to see how we can continue that now.

It’s forcing us to look at and adapt things more quickly, whether those are working practices, whether those are the adoption of technology; for instance, with the adoption of remote working, I can’t think of any issues we had in relation to employees or clients.”

The backbone of widescale remote working has been the adoption of innovative platforms, including document sharing services, wellbeing surveys, and HR platforms that fulfil a range of tasks, from booking holidays to accessing payroll information. By automating traditional tasks and offering greater efficiency, leaders can remove the blockers to a more engaged workforce.

Engagement on a team-by-team basis

ADP’s Employee Engagement Research Report found a greater engagement variation inside one organisation than between two different organisations. What is the source of this concern and how can leaders best address it?

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Jones relates this point to ADP’s internal workings; “One of the things that we’ve introduced at ADP is that, as well as looking at an overall engagement level, we look at percentage of people within the team who are fully engaged, and also the percentage of teams that are fully engaged.

Measurement is a big key to that, as you’re looking at a strategy, you need to be able to identify what success looks like and how you can drive that engagement on a team by team basis. If you want engagement to be addressed at team by team level, you need to ensure that the managers of those teams feel that they have the tools to achieve that.”

Jones notes the importance of measuring engagement outcomes and, as with the use of innovation that makes remote working easier, HR platforms can offer leaders a range of data points, including times of repeated absences, ongoing feedback, and in-work incentives, plus the alleviation of financial worries thanks to comprehensive payroll services. As such, technology is well equipped to tackle engagement on a team-by-team basis.

Enabling team leaders to build engagement

Discussions around employee engagement can often risk leaving out senior leaders, perhaps assuming they’re self-driven and motivated by senior leadership. However, from ADP’s Employee Engagement Executive Summary, the authors note that team engagement is strongly dependent on the engagement of the leader. How can HR leaders be assured that team leaders are engaged and in turn engage their teams?

Phipps notes the importance of interpersonal communication; “During lockdown, I was amazed with the conversations I was having; people were opening up to me in a way that they had never done previously, and I thought that was really powerful. We have a form of check in every week where people can just say what they loved and hated about their week, a great reflective tool.”

Phipps emphasises how leaders must tackle some of today’s biggest questions to help engage team leaders; “We need to make sure that managers are well equipped to deal with a team who could be working very differently than how they’ve done in the past. So instead of them being a team that they cannot see, how do you deal with a Teams huddle? How do you create virtual corridor chats? How does that work? I’m excited by the journey of finding out how we can make this an even better place for people.”

The key to success in the time to come

Overall, Phipps and Jones have shown how HR leaders can successfully tackle some of the biggest engagement obstacles facing leaders today. Firstly, displaying operational agility in the face of disruption, instilling confidence in teams that they’re working towards the right goals efficiently. Secondly, the need to understand engagement can vary within an organisation and adopt measures to properly track it. Thirdly, including team leaders in the conversation and giving them the tools to effectively manage their teams, particularly looking to some of the workplace positives of the pre-pandemic era. Lastly, from creating a nuanced engagement strategy to looping in senior staff, innovative platforms are an efficient, cost-effective, and accessible way to engage all layers of the workforce.

Click here to access HRD Connect and ADP’s on-demand session.

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