The Next Evolution of Employee Engagement: A People-Centric Shift

Managers need to be more people-centric than ever, while organizations need to unlock three keys to manager success: learning and growth, feedback, and the power to act.

Over the course of the last two years, the rules on employee engagement, leadership, and culture have changed completely. It took a global pandemic to materialize the shift, and the temporary rules seem to be here to stay. The top three challenges facing clients today are:

  • Designing the future of work that is focused on employee satisfaction
  • Developing more leaders in their organization
  • Delivering business results

The intriguing part is that the secret sauce for these challenges can be answered with a people-centric shift toward employee engagement, leadership, and culture. As a leader, examine your current employee engagement environment and ask yourself the question, “Is your organization evolving with the times and focused on a people-centric shift?”

A People-Centric Shift

Glint is LinkedIn’s business arm and operates on the belief that when people succeed,

your organization succeeds. Based on its 2021 State of the Manager report, it discovered four not-so-surprising priorities for the new world of work:

  1. Start with well-being.
  2. Make space for everyone to belong.
  3. Support remote and hybrid teams.
  4. Foster learning and growth.

The key takeaway from this report is that managers need to be more people-centric than ever. Additionally, organizations need to unlock three keys to manager success: learning and growth, feedback, and the power to act. Reflect on how your organization is fostering a people-centric culture, or how it needs to improve. Employee engagement is evolving—you will either adapt to the evolution or get stuck in the past. Let’s explore how to better engage your employees, focus on well-being as a core value in your organization, and ensure your organization is evolving through the people-centric shift that currently is taking place in better leadership practices.

Engaging Your Team with Clarity

We continue to face complex decisions as we work through post-pandemic recovery while staying safe from new virus variants. Some businesses are requiring employees to be vaccinated and present in an office environment, either ending remote working or implementing a true hybrid with several days remote and several days on-site. Others are supporting choice and providing emotional support to choose what’s best for the individual and their family. All of these personal decisions mean that things may not be as clear as we would like.

Employee engagement in this complex environment is more important than ever. Most employees want certainty when it comes to their professional lives. While you may not be able to provide certainty because of an ever-changing atmosphere, clarity is a foundation and strong ally of certainty. When we can’t get certain about what we are dealing with, maybe we can at least get clarity.

Here are a few things you can do to engage your team:

  1. Communicate openly and often. Create clarity with your team by sharing updates frequently, creating connections within the team and the organization, and providing opportunities for feedback. Use feedback and engagement tools such as Slido, Poll Everywhere, or Mentimeter to engage employees on-demand or live in a meeting.
  2. Focus on your team’s well-being and lead by example by focusing on yours. Set time aside to exercise, take care of family needs, connect with a group that supports you, or do something you love.
  3. Introduce more comprehensive well-being programs to address needs that have not been met during the pandemic and may be festering beneath the surface.
  4. Provide supportive direction and clear expectations to employees. In a hybrid workplace, the need for direction is critical to stay productive. Create a structure that will help junior team members that need even more direction. Consider adding peer buddy relationships to keep everyone moving forward.
  5. Launch a leadership development program to actively build the next layer of leaders. Invest at least nine and up to 18 months in a cohort of leaders. Results show participants in a leadership development program are more likely to get promoted within their company or recruited away to another company at a higher level.

Focus on Employee Well-Being

According to Gallup’s 2021 State of the Workplace report, the next global crisis is a mental health crisis. This is a painful, but true, reality. Take a look at some of the facts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • 50 percent of workers received less money than usual from their employer or business.
  • 49 percent of workers worked fewer hours at their job or business.
  • 53 percent of workers temporarily stopped working at their job or business.
  • 32 percent of workers lost their job or business.

To be clear, nearly 1 in 3 people who had a job at the time of the pandemic say they lost their job or business because of the pandemic—translating to just over 1 billion adults. That is a stunning statistic. This trauma left the workforce in the quandary. People were trying to evaluate the best next step in their lives, leading to a reduction in employee engagement overall from a historic high of only 2 percent. Additionally, daily feelings of anger, sadness, stress, and worry increased across the board.

On an interesting note, different regions of the world experienced the impacts differently. Some regions or countries may have had more joblessness, or more support structures in place to help workers through tough times. The difference in experiences led researchers to believe this is why employee engagement only dropped 2 percent. According to Gallup, the new measure of organizational success is a combination of employee engagement and thriving well-being. So in the end, if the people are not OK, the business will not be OK. The sooner we pay attention to well-being, the more we will grow and thrive as businesses.

In your next leadership team meeting, have an open discussion on where your organization stands regarding promoting employee well-being. You may be surprised at what you discover.

Level-Up Your Employee Engagement Game

Harvard Business Review’s article, “How Companies Can Improve Employee Engagement Right Now,” published in October of 2021 gives some fascinating guidance on how to change the game to a higher-quality employee experience. Some of the key findings reveal radical levers as options to motivate employees:

  • Connect what employees do to what they care about and the organization’s mission.
  • Let employees experiment with new work to see what they are naturally good at.
  • Let employees design their own job.
  • Create time affluence. Allowing employees to have more time freedom may increase engagement, connection, sense of belonging, personal well-being, creativity, and innovation.
  • Reward employees with time off in addition to financial incentives.
  • Employ organization-wide time-saving technical tools that change behaviors like discouraging e-mail reading and response outside of business hours.

These options are revolutionary and have the power to change the way employees are motivated, engage with others, and how long they stay with an organization. If you currently are suffering the effects of the Great Resignation, consider implementing one, or more, of these levers to level up your employee experience.

Here are the key takeaways for ensuring a people-centric shift in your employee engagement:

  1. Companies are boldly architecting the future of work and pushing forward to bring employees back. Architecting the future of work requires close attention to the behavior changes required to deliver the desired business results.
  2. “Well-being” is not just a catchphrase. The need for support for psychological, social, financial, and physical health is at an all-time high.
  3. Employee engagement delivers higher profits and better business key performance indicators (KPIs) across the board. Are you actively engaging employees in your business?

Support in Evolving

As overwhelming as all this may sound, you are not alone. Many organizations and leaders are struggling with the same situations or questions as you are. To move forward and evolve into new rules of employee engagement, leadership, and culture will take effort and persistence. Take a stand as a leader who is for the employee.

Sara Sheehan
Sara Sheehan, PCC, is a consultant and executive coach who works with C-level executive leaders in designing organizations, developing business strategies, managing change, optimizing talent and leadership development, and solving complex human performance problems. Through executive coaching, Sheehan helps leaders sprint their way up the corporate ladder and increase their performance. During her 25-plus years in business, she has worked with leaders, teams, and organizations in Fortune 100 companies and individuals. As a collaborative, results-orientated coach, Sheehan provides support and practical feedback to help clients effectively navigate change and address business challenges. She also integrates coaching techniques, methods, and approaches to help her clients develop change capabilities and learn to apply them right away. With a servant-leadership mindset, she supports her clients in building new skills and customizes frameworks to her client’s project needs.