Remember quiet quitting, a trend that took the world of work by storm? It referred to employees mentally disconnecting from their work while being physically present, causing notable apprehension. This subtle disengagement had considerable implications on employee productivity, company culture, and the overall success of a business.
In the ever-evolving work landscape, characterised by advancements like artificial intelligence, automation, and the emergence of the gig economy, companies consistently adapt their strategies for attracting and retaining talent. Despite the rapidity and impact of these changes on the workplace, the essence of the future of work still revolves around employee engagement.
Consequently, it becomes imperative for leaders to persist in establishing an engaging and inspiring work environment that fosters employee competitiveness. Failure to do so will inevitably lead to difficulties in attracting and retaining top talent. Therefore, the question that arises is: How can employees be effectively engaged in a rapidly evolving world?
In our quest to find an answer to this pressing question, we invited industry experts Emma Bridger, Founder of People Lab and The EX Space, Partha Neog, CEO and Co-founder of Vantage Circle, and Preeti Gupta, Group Executive President of Group HR at Aditya Birla Group, for People Matters' Big Questions debate session in collaboration with TechHR India 2023.
Together, we discovered valuable insights and practical solutions regarding employee engagement, particularly for key performers, while exploring the Art Of The Possible!
Understanding the burden
Despite the difficulties they face, it is important to acknowledge that top performers possess remarkable resilience and adaptability. They are highly motivated to excel and actively pursue chances to demonstrate their abilities. While the impact of ongoing resignations, layoffs, and organisational changes may differ for each individual, it is likely that many top performers experience a certain level of burden, believes the Co-founder of Vantage Circle.
It's important to understand that “employee engagement is influenced by various factors beyond just the company's environment or financial situation. While those aspects are undoubtedly significant, there are additional elements at play. Over the past few years, numerous events like the Covid-19 pandemic, political divisions, and the rise of artificial intelligence have created a complex landscape. These factors have heightened stress and anxiety levels among employees across the organisation, not just high performers. It's possible that senior or top-performing individuals may be more susceptible to these effects. Therefore, the overall environment, both within and outside the company, can have a significant impact on employee engagement,” said Partha Neog.
Resonating with Neog, Emma Bridger shared, “Global engagement surveys show varying results, but the overall sentiment is that many people are still unhappy at work. This unhappiness ultimately affects companies. Improving employee satisfaction and engagement is a significant area of focus, with various ideas being explored. This context frames the current state of the world of work as I see it.”
Recognising employees: Small gestures, big impact
Now more than ever, employers need to focus on creating a culture that values and appreciates each employee's unique contributions. Recognition programs should be designed to go beyond surface-level appreciation and monetary rewards. Employers must strive to create meaningful and personalised recognition experiences that highlight individual achievements and strengths. This will help employees feel seen, valued, and connected to the organisation's mission and purpose.
Working with various organisations at different stages, “I observed the impact of recognition programs on employee well-being, including physical and mental wellness. Policies related to safety and recognition can significantly affect an individual's overall mental wellness. When it comes to purpose, defining a strong purpose for a company can be very fruitful,” suggested the CEO of Vantage Circle.
“We have noticed that some companies prioritise recognition earlier than others, and it doesn't always require significant budgets. For example, a simple gesture like bringing flowers when visiting someone's house for dinner can have a meaningful impact. Likewise, recognising employees' efforts plays a vital role in engagement, and while it may be difficult to measure its direct influence on attrition rates, it contributes to creating a positive work environment,” he added.
Moving beyond data
Creating a positive experience is fostering a sense of purpose and meaning in the work employees do. Helping individuals understand how their role contributes to the organisation's larger mission can instil a sense of pride and fulfilment. The founder of People Lab and The EX Space shared how can it be achieved:
- Instead of solely focusing on measurement data, it's important to intentionally design great experiences that foster engagement.
- Taking a people-cantered approach is crucial, as assumptions about what constitutes a positive experience may not hold true for everyone.
- Conducting ‘best experience conversations’ where individuals share their positive work experiences can provide valuable insights.
- Rather than assuming we know what's best for employees, invest time in understanding their needs and preferences.
Reframing generational differences
While each generation may have their own unique experiences and perspectives, when it comes to work, there is a common desire that transcends generational boundaries. Ultimately, all employees, regardless of their age or generation, seek similar things in their professional lives, suggested Emma Bridger and Preeti Gupta.
“Flexibility, growth opportunities, and other factors that contribute to engagement are not limited to specific generations. While there may be discussions about generational differences, in my years of working with various companies, both big and small, we have not found significant evidence to support substantial generational gaps, said Bridger.
She further added that “as a psychologist, I can attest that academic literature also lacks conclusive evidence for these generational divisions. Instead of making assumptions based on generational differences, it's important to approach each individual without preconceived notions and tailor engagement strategies accordingly.”
Preeti Gupta believes that life stages, rather than generational labels, play a more significant role in shaping expectations and needs. Regardless of the generation, we all desire social connections, comfort, and flexibility throughout our lives.
She added that “game-changing technologies, such as computers and Google, have transformed the way we work and altered our job expectations. The context and available tools influence how we approach our roles and the level of autonomy we seek. With increased connectivity and data accessibility, individuals may now prioritise different forms of freedom and autonomy. Therefore, it is the context and not the specific generational label that drives expectations and requirements in the workplace.”
Building a positive culture despite limited resources
Organisations with limited resources face unique challenges in cultivating a work culture that promotes enthusiasm, dedication, and long-term commitment. Despite these constraints, there are several important strategies that startups or resource-constrained companies can implement to address employee disengagement. According to Partha Neog, ensuring direct communication with leaders and minimising unnecessary layers of management work wonders.
“In our company, we have observed that transparency about our progress, revenue targets, and overall goals fosters confidence among employees. We believe in maintaining a direct connection with our leaders and avoiding unnecessary layers of management. Additionally, we understand the importance of planning for employee attrition and accept that people may leave for various reasons. However, while they are with us, we strive to keep them engaged, similar to how one would nurture a relationship. We have even groomed individuals who we thought were considering leaving, recognising that such situations may arise. These examples highlight our approach to managing employee engagement based on our own experiences,” he shared.
Adding to the same, Group Executive President of Group HR at Aditya Birla Group, said, “In smaller organisations with limited resources, I observed a few approaches to managing engagement. One common practice was to encourage ideas from anyone within the company, regardless of their level or position. This allowed individuals to take the lead on projects and initiatives. The hierarchy was minimal, and everyone had an equal opportunity to present their ideas. Transparency was also emphasised, with presentations held the next morning to showcase the ideas. The entire team had a voice in selecting the best ideas, and there was a sense of pride among individuals who took on client-facing work. This inclusive and collaborative environment contributed to a positive work culture.”
To learn more from leaders about some of the burning questions in today’s world of work, stay tuned to People Matters' Big Question series on LinkedIn. Explore more such themes at the 10th edition of People Matters TechHR India on the 3rd and 4th of August 2023 at The Leela, Ambience Mall, Gurgaon. Click here to register and be a part of Asia’s Largest HR & WorkTech Conference!