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5 key employee engagement trends for 2021

The year 2021 in white text on an orange backgound, the 0 replaced with a lightbulb, emitting a white cloud, to represent the theme of a staff engagement strategy

The world as we know it has undergone so many paradigm shifts since the start of COVID-19.

Some of these have been expected, and others caught many businesses off-guard. These changes have altered so many aspects of the way we, as a society, work.

With a lot more pressure on employees and employers, both personally and professionally, there has been a lot of adjustments that have been needed to be made and thereafter, adopted, in order for businesses to carry on in this new landscape.

With this in mind, there are a number of key trends which HR teams are identifying for 2021, in order to enhance their staff engagement strategy and maintain a level of employee productivity.

To improve levels of employee engagement – especially amongst remote workers and dispersed teams – more and more organisations are starting to invest increased time and effort into initiatives that take into account isolation, loneliness, burnout and the need for additional connection and employee interaction.

Here are 5 trends that your business should consider as part of a staff engagement strategy:

A young, smiling woman working from home on her laptop and phone as part of a staff engagement strategy

1. Remote working

2020 catapulted global working into the realm of working from home, without much notice. Many companies were not necessarily early adopters of remote and flexible working, yet Covid-19 did not leave them much option into changing how they operate.

HR teams far and wide have had to implement contingency plans in order to get their teams back up and working as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

Many employees struggled to adapt to new ways of working with children and spouses at home, no dedicated working space, inadequate technology and increased feelings of isolation.

Research from PwC shows that there is a disconnect between what employees want and that of their employers. 74% of employees said they would like to work from home and less than 1 in 5 employees said they want to return to the offices as it was pre-pandemic.

In 2021, companies will need a strong focus on creating a working-from home culture, as opposed to focusing on an in-office culture.

This can be in the form of a working from home stipend per month or per quarter where employees can use their allocation on home equipment, or on meal allowances or wellbeing solutions.

More and more companies are starting to set up virtual IT support teams to be on hand during and after working hours to support employees who need technical support to ease their remote working experience.

A well-executed communication plan needs to be set out and communicated to the team about both short- and long-term working options and investments.

2. Recognition

Pre-pandemic, many organisations understood the value of employee recognition and had started implementing it in one way or another. However, during the pandemic and especially the lockdowns, employees are feeling demotivated, worried, unnoticed and on edge.

While employees are doing their utmost to juggle working from home, home-schooling, the blurred boundaries of home and work, many are feeling the lack of recognition which occurred a lot more impulsively and sporadically when being face-to-face, such as a “thank you” in front of the team.

Companies are now starting to place a lot more emphasis on introducing employee recognition into their employee engagement strategies as a means of retention, motivation and productivity.

According to a survey from The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), recognition can help create a positive workplace culture and employee experience, and more than one-half said their programme positively affects retention (68%) and recruitment (56%).

Plus, research by WorldAtWork in 2019 found that most companies rely on a combination of formal and informal recognition to express appreciation formal programmes on the rise. Formal recognition is most often associated with the use of a dedicated reward and recognition platform or scheme.

The most popular ways to informally recognise would be through peer-to-peer recognition where employees can nominate employees, through giving bespoke e-Cards for various milestones and occasions, through announcements on winner's walls, through giving an e-badge or e-award.

Companies are looking to implement these types of schemes whereby their employees can access platforms from wherever they are located, in order to continue the culture of much needed and deserved recognition.

A man in headphones taking part in an online course on his laptop as part of his employer’s staff engagement strategy. 

3. Upskilling current employees

As 2020 has brought on a lot of uncertainty for many organisations around the world, with profits being tested and a lot of uncertainties about what the future holds, it is, therefore, with good reason, that many have halted pay rises and salary increases.

With this in mind, companies are opting to rather upskill their current workforce. They are offering opportunities for internal and external training courses, for mentoring programmes and for allowing their employees to shadow different departments and giving them the necessary skills to expand their repertoire.

Also, in addition to recruiting new talent to bridge the gap in many departments, HR teams are choosing rather to upskill their current workforce as this is often more cost-efficient than going through the whole recruitment process.

This can also help with meeting organisational goals as HR can hone in and target exactly the areas of expertise in which the business needs to flourish and excel.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, every time a business replaces a salaried employee, it costs six to nine months' salary on average. Therefore, 2021 is looking to be a year of career development, upskilling and learning completely new skill opportunities.

4. Employee Experience (EX) focus

While some employees have enjoyed working from home, many have felt completely disconnected from their teams and employers as a whole. It is now time to repair the disconnect which the pandemic has created.

Employers and business leaders are investing a lot more resources into this staff engagement strategy, as it can make or break their business, brand reputation and relationships with customers and clients.

Employers need to know exactly what makes their employees tick, what aggravates certain situations and how their teams best respond to certain management styles, especially with a dispersed workforce.

Companies that invested heavily in their employee experience are included 11.5x more often in Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work and 28x more often listed among Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, according to research by Jacob Morgan, The Employee Experience Advantage’s author.

Some key ways to build, maintain and improve this EX is through honest and open dialogue with employees, ensuring a work-life balance as well as providing meaningful and relevant employee benefits.

Two women chatting together over coffee in a café as part of an employee wellbeing and staff engagement strategy

5. Employee Wellbeing

Covid-19 has had an impact on all employees, either physically, mentally and/ or financially. Be it about catching the virus, losing a loved one, fears about finances and what will happen to jobs and the future way of working.

More so than before, it is critical to focus on your employees’ wellbeing and give them the necessary tools they need to feel better equipped to deal with their feelings and insecurities and to best support them in whatever way possible.

With social distancing and many people working from home, access to mental health support may look different to the traditional ways of helping. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 70 million workdays are lost each year due to mental health problems in the UK, costing employers approximately £2.4 billion annually.

Companies can show a duty of care to their employees by offering an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). This will give employees access to 24/7 confidential help and advice when they most need it.

A longer-term solution to tackling mental health can be to introduce ongoing health benefits and perks for employees. A healthy body often leads to a healthy mind. A work-life balance is crucial for all employees and their well-being.

Encourage your team to work an 8-hour day and not more, especially while working from home and boundaries are blurred, to try not to check emails late at night or over the weekend, or limit the over hours if tasks permit.

For some employees, offering flexibility may be more beneficial than an increase in a paycheque. Giving employees an element of freedom to come in later and leave earlier, or the option to work from home can help reduce stress and anxiety and can often promote productivity.

By focusing on the above trends in 2021...

Organisations can leapfrog their employee engagement and make their dispersed teams feel nurtured and cared for.

In turn, there's the hope productivity and performance levels will remain constant and even soar. Employees will also feel fulfilled and happier and will be able to give their best, even in the most of trying times.

How Xexec can help

Xexec an employee benefits provider, offering bespoke and tailored solutions to help with employee engagement. Download our Employee Experience deck below to find out how best to engage your employees or get in touch with our team to explore different options for your staff engagement strategy.

Download Employee Experience Deck

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