The changing approach to traditional employee engagement


Traditional employee engagement approaches are changing – we take a look at how any why. 

As the Great Resignation continues, employee experience has never been more important. Attracting, retaining, and engaging your people is critical to growth, innovation and meeting the fast-changing needs of your customers. All of this means that traditional ways of listening to, and engaging, employees are no longer enough. How companies manage and improve the employee experience therefore needs to change – leading to radical transformation of listening approaches to drive success.

What do employees actually want?

Thanks to the competition for talent, most companies now offer their people a decent working environment, and a range of benefits, from generous pension contributions to social events. However, what employees want has evolved – particularly when it comes to hybrid working. Having a wonderful office is not a draw if you never actually go there.

Employees want something different – as Carolina Valencia, vice president in Gartner’s HR practice points out, “Once basic needs are met, people are more powerfully motivated by feelings than by material features. Employees today want to be treated as people, not just workers.” Gartner research found that just 31% of workers say their company offers them something unique that is likely to keep them onboard.

Employees want their concerns and issues to be addressed much faster and for responses to be based on their personal needs and requirements. This means that companies need to be able to respond quickly and act across a wider range of areas, giving a tailored answer to individual employees. The days of relying on a single, top-down annual survey are therefore long gone. Employee experience is as important as employee engagement as we explain in this blog.

Organizations are struggling to cope with this shift. Research from analyst Josh Bersin found that only 42% of employers can quickly take action based on employee feedback, for example. As we’ll explain in the rest of this article, mastering employee experience feedback requires radical new approaches. Essentially it means making four major changes around:

  • Who owns employee experience
  • How companies interact and listen
  • How companies analyze what employees are feeling
  • How they then act and make changes

1. The shift in ownership of employee experience

Traditionally employee experience, along with everything else related to “people” was owned by the HR team. They were responsible for listening to staff and measuring their engagement levels, alongside the backend administration of benefits, payroll, holidays, and employee contracts.

There’s now a recognition that employee experience is different to other people-related activities, and that it goes way beyond the HR department. EX is not in any one place. For example, given the huge impact EX has on customer experience, many CX teams want involvement or ownership. Equally, much of EX relates directly to how managers operate, while areas such as IT and the working environment also contribute to how people feel about their job.

This means that many organizations are creating dedicated, cross-functional EX teams – pulling together HR, CX, IT, operations and ensuring everything is linked together. Josh Bersin has named this approach “continuous response,” with the team supported by an action platform that provides the information needed to answer employee questions quickly, help managers identify and address issues before they become big problems, and give leaders the insights that can help the company remain competitive.

2. The shift to new ways of interacting

Employee feedback surveys have come a long way in the past few years. They’ve moved from a single, paper-based annual survey to embrace a range of formats, from more frequent pulse surveys to continuous listening activities. Shorter, more frequent, and more targeted surveys are now the norm.

However, there’s more that companies can do in today’s digital, data-driven world. They need to be able to understand employee signals collected through a range of options:

  • Direct signals through solicited feedback, whether through pre-planned surveys or always-on methods
  • Indirect signals through other interactions, such as 360 degree feedback, data in HR systems, or calls/emails to HR helplines
  • Observed behaviors, covering how employees feel and interact with colleagues and customers

This requires a new approach to experience management technology. Companies need a platform that can efficiently run surveys of all types, and can also bring in data from other systems and capture employee feedback in the moment.

It also means changing how ‘success’ is measured. It used to be that running a survey with a high response rate was seen as a win for HR. The more people that answered, the more data there was to analyze. However, particularly when it came to annual surveys, there was significant pressure on employees to provide feedback, with some companies/managers even offering incentives around completion. This meant that feedback wasn’t necessarily honest or timely.

Shifting to new ways of listening provides the chance to change this, allowing employees to respond when they have feedback, instead of when the organization decides to send a survey. So, this means that not everyone will respond at the same time, leading to much lower response rates. However, the issues raised are equally important and need to be analyzed and acted on.

3. The shift to new ways of analyzing insights

With more and more EX data now available, being able to quickly analyze these signals and turn them into effective actions is vital. That requires advanced text analytics and AI that can analyze massive amounts of data from different sources in real-time.

In particular, the growth of text analytics means people can move beyond traditional surveys made up of closed, quantitative questions, with answers rated on a scale of 1-5. It is now simple to analyze open, qualitative feedback and pick out insights – both from surveys and, when turned into text, voice, and video calls.

This enables companies to unearth much deeper insights and really understand what employees are saying and how this relates to their behavior, turnover, and performance. It can help spot specific issues that an individual is having, and longer term trends that need to tackled across the wider company.

4. The shift to new ways of acting

Listening to employees is counter-productive if nothing is done with their feedback. And with more employee experience data now available, and staff expectations rising, action needs to be taken much faster and must be personalized to individual needs.

That means making action planning an integrated part of employee experience. Companies must be able to immediately route specific actions, such as a query about benefits or IT, to the best person to deal with them – and then ensure they are completed.

When it comes to bigger issues, it is vital to get employees involved in action planning, rather than just leaving it to managers. By co-creating solutions companies tap into employee ideas, getting input from those closest to the problem and increasing buy-in once changes are made.

The need for change from traditional employee engagement

Across industries, people expect more from their employers, and want their voices to be heard. Delivering on these needs around employee experience requires new approaches, using data more effectively to provide a personalized, effective, and fast response that keeps staff happy, engaged and motivated over the long term.