2023 – just like the previous few years – has brought significant changes to the workplace. And organisations are increasingly prioritising employee engagement strategies to ensure a resilient and thriving workforce.
In our exclusive interview with Georgina Reeves-Saad, British Council’s Employee Engagement and Experience Lead, we explore the market and workplace trends impacting employee engagement in 2023 and look ahead to what’s in store in 2024. Discover actionable strategies your organisation should prioritise – now and into the future.
Reading time: 7 minutes
What aspect of organisational success do most leaders, managers and employees agree is crucial? Employee engagement. Yet, it can be elusive to attain (and maintain). Maybe because employee engagement can mean different things to different people. At its core, employee engagement involves emotional commitment and enthusiasm in one’s work, deep interest, active participation and a positive attitude.
Why employee engagement matters now (more than ever)
2023 – just like the previous few years – has brought significant changes to the workplace. Hybrid and remote work, digital transformation, employee wellbeing, talent shortages, cost-efficiency and overall business resilience are just a few of the key elements reshaping the modern workplace landscape.
This current landscape explains why organisations are increasingly prioritising employee engagement strategies. And why we recently sat down with Georgina Reeves-Saad, British Council’s Employee Engagement and Experience Lead. In our exclusive interview, we explore how employee engagement will continue to be critical in the future and actionable strategies you can apply in your organisation.
Trend #1: Flexible working and life-work harmony
As we begin our discussion of the leading trend impacting many organisations, Georgina doesn’t hesitate. ‘Successful companies will need to find ways to support employees in their personal lives as much as their professional lives.’ And one of the most effective employee engagement strategies is flexible working. Because it supports ‘life-work harmony’ – a term Georgina prefers over work-life balance.
‘There’s more autonomy and choice in the word “harmony”,’ she argues. And it’s exactly what today’s workforce wants more of.
Employees desire greater autonomy and flexibility
Although much has changed since the height of the pandemic, there is a growing desire among employees: greater freedom. Expectations around flexibility remain high – even more important than salary or benefits. As employees adapt to the post-pandemic era, many want the freedom to choose how, when and where they work. Whether that’s onsite, hybrid or remote work.
During this unique moment of workplace transformation, ‘it’s important to have open communication, listening to employees with consideration and compassion to better understand their needs,’ advises Georgina. Because employees who feel seen, heard and valued also have higher levels of job satisfaction and engagement.
However, some organisations are not listening.
There is a growing call to return to the office, with 7 in 10 companies worldwide implementing office mandates. This reflects the disconnect between employees’ and senior leaders’ ideas about the future of work. And the back-to-office push is impacting talent attraction and employee retention.
What’s the alternative?
‘If an organisation truly wants to win the war for talent, they need to adopt a personalised approach to ways of working,’ emphasises Georgina. That’s why forward-thinking organisations are taking a design thinking approach to employee experience, personalising work as much as possible. Growing in popularity are employee personas to better understand needs around flexibility (and more).
Looking ahead to 2024 and beyond
- Workplace demographics are changing. By 2028, 58% of the workforce will be millennials and Gen Z. And according to a recent survey, 90% of them prefer remote work.
- Flexibility will be crucial in an increasingly global workforce, as organisations will need to accommodate different time zones and working preferences.
- Ongoing advancements in technology will make remote work even more accessible and efficient. These improvements will further solidify the importance of flexible working arrangements.
- Many governments are introducing legislation on flexible working rights. Organisations will need to stay ahead of these standards to ensure they comply.
- Prioritise how your organisation will support people personally as well as professionally to navigate changes in flexible working requirements.
- Determine what resources and policies are necessary, such as flexibility around leave, schedules, Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), etc.
- Evaluate your Employee Value Proposition (EVP) to ensure it is competitive. Consider personalised working options and supporting employees’ life-work harmony to be more competitive in talent attraction and employee retention.
- Provide support for managers in leading flexible teams, particularly around effective collaboration among team members in flexible work arrangements. What tools and resources do you need? Are they currently available?
- Prioritise maintaining a consistent organisational culture to proactively address challenges that arise when team members are in different work environments.
Trend #2: Organisational trust and psychological safety
The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed a significant shift in trust. Organisations outperform governments and the media. Because biased or misleading information in politics and the media is eroding trust in these institutions. So, people are relying more on organisations to be agents of change.
And employees are paying attention – preferring to work for organisations they trust.
The connection between organisational culture and employee engagement
A transparent, open organisational culture that promotes psychological safety and transformational leadership is another critical element to employee engagement. ‘Employees who are able to speak up without judgment or retribution are more likely to feel valued,’ says Georgina. And they have a strong sense of purpose and connection– critical factors for engagement and employee retention. In fact, high-trust companies report 50% higher productivity, 40% less burnout and 76% more engagement.
Looking ahead to 2024 and beyond
- Employees want to work for more than money. Things like purpose, passion and making a meaningful social impact greatly contribute to employee happiness.
- The future workforce of millennials and Gen Z place a high value on the social and environmental impact of their work – and the organisations they work for.
- A culture of trust is vital as flexible working arrangements continue to evolve. It will ensure that employees are motivated and accountable, regardless of their physical location.
- For remote workers, a culture that promotes psychological safety and trust helps them cope with challenges related to isolation, communication and mental health.
- Embrace CSR such as sustainability, ethical practices and social initiatives. Aligning organisational values with societal concerns will resonate with candidates who seek companies that share their values and principles.
- Establish a feedback-rich work culture, where constructive feedback is encouraged and positively received.
- Support managers to develop a coaching management style to increase psychological safety within their teams.
- Encourage senior leaders to set the example, bringing organisational values and desired behaviours into everyday interactions.
- Promote an organisational culture where everyone knows they have an important role and responsibility.
Trend #3: Tech advancement and AI transformation
In 2016 the legendary physicist Stephen Hawking predicted that the creation of artificial intelligence (AI) will be ‘either the best, or worst thing, ever to happen to humanity’. And that ‘success in creating AI could be the biggest event in the history of our civilisation.’
We wind down our interview discussing the remarkable advancements in technology and AI that is revolutionising the workplace.
Driving employee engagement by embracing tech and AI transformation
‘On the one hand, there is the potential to significantly drive employee engagement by automating repetitive tasks,’ says Georgina. ‘This shift can empower employees to focus on more meaningful and challenging aspects of their jobs.’ And Satya Nadella, Chairman and CEO of Microsoft agrees. ‘This new generation of AI will remove the drudgery of work and unleash creativity,’ Nadella says in a new Microsoft report.
How are organisations using technological advancement to boost engagement?
Some popular employee engagement strategies involve using new tech solutions to provide more personalised employee experience. Things like targeted learning and development, individualised career paths, personalised performance management, wellbeing support and employee feedback platforms.
Looking ahead to 2024 and beyond
Increased human-AI collaboration will enhance employee capabilities rather than replace them. Think AI-powered chatbots to support teams – allowing them to focus on more complex issues that require uniquely human soft skills.
Organisations will improve their ability to leverage advanced analytics and predictive modelling to gain data-driven insights. Facilitating increased accuracy in forecasting and risk management and support strategic decision-making.
Data privacy, security and ethical concerns will drive organisations to invest heavily in cybersecurity to ensure data protection and compliance with strict privacy regulations. Plus, a growing emphasis on ethical AI usage.
- Determine which tasks and roles may be replaced by AI. Redesign entry-level jobs, focusing more on leveraging human creativity, critical thinking and EQ.
- Maintain and nurture a culture of continuous learning to adapt to evolving job requirements. Invest in re and upskilling employees to acquire new skills quickly.
- Establish change management strategies for AI implementation to alleviate employee concerns and facilitate a smoother transition to AI adoption.
- Advocate for diversity and inclusion in AI development teams to limit bias and discrimination in AI algorithms – promoting fair and ethical use of AI.
- Prioritise employee wellbeing and mental health initiatives to help employees cope with potential stress associated with rapid technological changes.
Employee engagement – into the future
The future of employee engagement is undeniably linked to rapid change and transformation in the workplace. Yet, there is one thing Georgina is certain about.
‘When employees feel in control, heard and valued – when they’re part of a respected, invested community – these are the critical elements to employee engagement’. What’s the main takeaway for organisations? ‘It’s about mutual respect, caring and making a real difference in employees lives.’
British Council has over 80 years’ experience of partnering with organisations and individuals in over 200 countries. Founded in 1934, we are a UK charity and are committed to upholding ethical practices, transparency, fairness, and the greater good of the global community.
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