Are we heading into an engagement crisis?

Or is this a wake-up call that our jobs as engagement and people specialists are about to get even tougher...

 

Vijay Mistry

Head of Employee Research

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Read more about Vijay

Vijay has worked with some of the most recognisable brands and organisations across the public and private sector. His expertise spans the employee lifecycle; with specialist knowledge of employee engagement, organisational culture, change management and inside-out customer experience. Vijay is a strategic thinker, challenging organisations through insight and in the design of their programmes to do more, and get more, out of their research.


Engagement isn’t a soundbite, it’s business as usual for any successful organisation that recognises the impact of a highly committed, motivated and advocating workforce. But with the rise of millennials and GenZ, creating organisations where all people thrive has become complex, which according to our 2019 Worklife study is about to get even more challenging.

We've moved beyond demonising the aspirations and ambitions of new employees, which some might say we should all strive for, but with that comes the acceptance of fundamental shifts in an organisation’s design. Our study reveals that since the baby boomer generation, the UK workforce is becoming less engaged, a trend only made visible through GenZ entering the workforce. According to our study, the proportion of employees that are ‘actively engaged’ (100% engaged) has reduced from 47% amongst GenX to 41% amongst GenZ; and inversely, ‘active disengagement’ (100% disengaged) increases with each subsequent generation from 30% to 36%.

You might be thinking we’re dealing with an inherently disengaged workforce, but the reality is employees are engaged differently to what we have come to know over the last decade. The call to action here is to understand what creates engagement among different generations and populations within organisations, then design and deliver strategies that meet the needs of sub-populations, not just the collective.

We’re talking about the personalisation of the employee experience, which also means employees becoming accountable for their own satisfaction at work and taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them. Spoon-feeding initiatives and policies isn’t going to cut it, we need to create adaptive, agile cultures where employees actively leverage what’s in front of them, but also have the opportunity to do so – time, energy and encouragement.

Where do we start you might ask? It’s time to develop a deeper understanding of engagement and the wider employee experience across different workforce profiles – be it generational or other. We need to understand drivers and develop shopping carts of opportunities, initiatives and programmes allowing for a self-selected employer value proposition. We also need to keep a close eye on the changing influences, which is where the external perspective comes in. We’re not just talking about benchmarking survey data, but also, for example, keeping track of what the true potential applicant population (every person that has never worked or applied for a job at your organisation) is seeking from work. Here at Harris Interactive, we call this research across the employee ecosystem.

My advice to organisations is to think about how the data you already have or are soliciting can be made to work harder for you. Looking at the collective response is essential for strategic action, but when it comes to maximising engagement in the future, we need to start zoning in on individual needs. Our jobs might have just become more challenging, but we play a pivotal role in shaping the dynamic workplace of the future.

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