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Employee Engagement Initiatives in a New World of Work: Part One

The past three years have seen a total transformation in the world of work: not only in where and how we work, but also in terms of what employees now expect from employers. The effects of this upheaval are starting to show up in a decline in employee engagement. It’s leading HR and the C-suite to look for new employee engagement initiatives to keep key talent and maintain productivity. In this three-part blog series, we’ll explore ways you can sustain employee engagement in this new working environment. The first focuses on workplace flexibility. 

What’s happening with engagement and why is it so important?

After trending up in recent years, Gallup says employee engagement in the U.S. saw its first annual decline in a decade—dropping from 36% in 2020, to 34% in 2021, to 32% in early 2022.1 Headlines about the Great Resignation (or Reshuffle), “quiet quitting,” and a reckoning about the meaning of work itself affirm this.

Employee engagement is key to any successful organization. According to Gallup,2 highly engaged employee populations are more likely to see reduced absenteeism, improved employee performance, higher profitability, and lower turnover. So it’s clear that focusing on employee engagement isn’t just a “nice to have.” As Gallup says, the “way your company treats employees and how employees treat one another can positively affect their actions — or can place your organization at risk.”

But things are different today. Employees are grappling with remote work, mental health concerns, physical well-being, childcare struggles – all of which can profoundly affect engagement. So traditional HR initiatives for employee engagement employers have used in the past may be less effective. What can you do to increase employee engagement and retention right now?

A truly flexible work environment

A flexible workplace has emerged as one of the most important aspects of employee engagement. Research found that “63% of employees say flexibility would make them feel more empowered.3 Nearly half agree that having the freedom to split time between the workplace and home, and the flexibility to choose which days to come in, are just as important as traditional benefits like matching 401(k)s and paid time off.”

Most organizations have adopted some form of flexibility in where work gets done – with the majority of employers opting for a “hybrid” approach. But that is just the tip of the iceberg – true flexibility is starting to also encompass when we work, too. According to McKinsey, “employees today demand flexibility tailored to their specific needs, whether it be work-life balance, physical and emotional health, or caring for family.”4 Blended workdays, where we work a bit, take some personal time, and then work some more are also becoming more popular.5

Here are some ideas for how to lean into flexibility:

  • Allow employees the freedom to set their own schedules to better align with family responsibilities, or simply to work when they feel most productive.
  • Offer 4-day or compressed workweeks.
  • Introduce additional PTO.
  • Institute “no meeting” days so employees can schedule appointments or get focused work done.
  • For those who can’t work from home, offer choice and control in work shifts: self-scheduling, shift-swapping, compressed workweeks, part-time work, and job sharing.

However you decide to offer employees flexibility, make sure to establish some ground rules that keep employees engaged, while also making sure work gets done efficiently. Good communication about working hours, regular check-ins, and a high level of trust between managers and employees will be essential. Check in next week for our thoughts on how a well-being program can play a big role in keeping engagement high.


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