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Employee engagement: time for a reality check?

How many articles about the future of engagement did you read at the start of the year? Us too. There’s a lot of noise in our space right now.

But despite the volume of conversation, the latest stats confirm that employee engagement is still a major issue. It’s pretty obvious that the rhetoric isn’t cutting through and sparking change.

If we are really serious about making the world of work better and improving these woeful results, we have to pick up the pace of change, connect the internal and external worlds more than ever before and get better at measuring progress. We need to relentlessly think about the future of work, and help people find fulfilment and meaning in their roles. And we have to get better as an industry at directly attributing engagement efforts to positive impact on the bottom line.

We see these challenges as opportunities to make a real difference. And at the dawn of a new decade, we couldn’t be more excited about working in this industry. To shake up the system and boost growth, here’s a flavour of some of the things we are focusing our efforts on.

1. Waking up to the world we live in today and adapting

We live in an age where mistrust, cynicism and outrage are rife. The call out culture we’re experiencing can be paralysing for brands, and their leaders. More than ever, businesses have to urgently focus on engaging their employees and customers in an authentic way, so that they can inspire advocacy and turn activism into a positive force.

Leaders have to actively listen and create opportunities for people to confidently interact with each other. It’s tough to hit the mark when you’re out of step with what really matters most to your biggest fans, both inside and outside the organisation.

And businesses have to start to trust their employees and consumers more by giving them a voice and a platform to engage. Trust is a two-way street and has to be continually earned if you want to protect your reputation.

2. Shaking up values to have more impact

Historically, companies didn’t do much to align their external brand values with how they engaged their people, creating a massive disconnect between the internal and external experience. But as today’s consumers increasingly demand to know what a company stands for, that approach won’t cut it anymore.

We don’t believe every brand has to shout about every societal issue hitting the headlines, unless it’s a core part of their DNA. But a business does need to have absolute clarity over its beliefs. And it has to consistently engage its people around its belief system in the right way, across the employee lifecycle. A one-hit-wonder values campaign won’t cut it.

We believe values could offer a differentiating point of view, but only if they are aligned with authentic behaviours that genuinely anchor an organisation’s culture and are properly leveraged to drive a consistent brand experience, and unity.

3. Reframing the customer experience for employees

There has been an undeniable shift for some businesses away from the shareholder-first approach, towards prioritising the needs of employees and consumers. As part of this movement, brands have focused on creating memorable experiences for all of their stakeholders.

During each customer interaction your people represent your brand, its unique personality and its beliefs. And in the age of transparency, the overarching customer experience needs to be consistent across every touchpoint.

To drive that consistency, you need to set the tone, build your brand internally, break down the barrier between the customer and the employee, and create a more inclusive culture. And you have to ensure you are truly reflective of your customers inside the organisation.

It takes time for an employee to understand the power of a brand’s ability to foster an emotional connection with a consumer, and even more time for them to recognise their role in achieving that dynamic. It’s near impossible to nurture that connection if you don’t have the right people in your business.

4. Understanding what people want from work

To meaningfully engage people, we have to think about their developing expectations of work. Gone are the days where an individual’s sense of self was wrapped up in what they did for living. People now want more flexibility and the autonomy to shape a career that works for their lives.

In a volatile world, anxiety is part of the new norm and burnout is common amongst all generations. We have to work harder to build communities, inspire a sense of belonging and security, and crucially better equip people for change.

We need to reframe the conversation around transformation and take a more human approach. And that involves creating a more personalised employee experience that is fit for the individual, not the masses.

We love digging into how the world of work is being impacted by wider societal trends. If you want to join the conversation, we’d love to hear from you. Stay tuned for more in our reality check series.