Getting to Grips with Employee Engagement in the Digital Age

Guest blog by Karen Minicozzi, vice president, HCM product strategy, EMEA, Workday

You may be fairly bored of reading about ‘disloyal,’ millennials or the seemingly endless talk of ‘disengaged’ digital natives and the disruption these generations bring to the workplace. Yet, in practice it’s much more complex than that. It’s not just those born in the early 1980s onwards who are thinking differently about work, loyalty and culture more broadly – even if this fable helps perpetuate a good media story.


In fact, according to the Gallup polling firm, only 13 percent of the global workforce is “highly engaged.” Upwards of half the workforce would not recommend their employer to their peers. Additionally, a recent AMA study discovered that 52% of managers “see their employees as less loyal than five years ago.” Neither research report was specifically focused on millennials.

With this in mind, the common, media-driven conception that it’s just the emerging workforce spending their days actively looking for opportunities to job hop seems wide of the mark. We are moving into an era where all workers want to develop a broad range of skills and embrace different experiences rather than simply climbing the career ladder or adding zeros to their pay slip. How does HR, and the business more broadly, set about attracting, developing and retaining talent if these employees continually have one digital eye on the exit door?

Such challenges raise questions for HR leaders around how they are approaching issues, including people management and leadership development for all employees today.

One possible solution is ensuring that HR is fighting fire with fire. Citing research from Goldman Sachs, millennials are not prepared to work using the same systems and processes that previous generations have. They live and breathe technology, and they expect their employers to provide digital and social tools that resemble the platforms they use in their private lives, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. It could be argued that the same technology which leads them to social networks, and the wealth of online recruiters, can be also be used as a tool of engagement within the business’ four walls. Here we look at three key areas that can help HR leaders better engage, not just millennials and their digital cohorts, but the entire workforce.


  1. I Control my Destiny: Empowering the Workforce to Drive their Careers

More than six in 10 digital natives  recently told Deloitte that their “leadership skills were not being fully developed by their employer.” While you can’t stop an employee of any generation from leaving, you can make them feel like they’re in control of their own career trajectory and give them the tools and information to understand the areas where they need to grow.

Traditionally, in most organisations, data has been kept in the hands of the few rather than the many, and getting access to it could be a long, painful process using tools which were not user friendly. HR and its business partners should be thinking about how they can open up and democratise data across their organisation, using tools based on the consumer web which push access to information to the front lines where employees will be looking to use it.

Delivering an experience that feels natural is key here, and by giving employees access to systems which look and feel like social network tools, HR can reduce the time it takes to do simple admin tasks and improve employee engagement with the HR function and across the business more broadly. Similarly, mobile is now a right for all workers, not a privilege for the few, and it’s important to make HR tools available to employees via the channels they expect to drive engagement. A number of global reports, including Deloitte’s 2015 ‘Leading in the New World of Work’ research point to a direct correlation between engaged employees, and higher levels of performance and loyalty.


  1. Culture and Opportunity Should go Hand-in-Hand

As mentioned earlier, employees are increasingly looking for new career opportunities that fit their own personal interests and which deliver fulfilment and purpose. For this reason HR should think about what we at Workday call a ‘culture of opportunity.’ This means being less stringent about policies or old-fashioned career paths, and being more transparent about new opportunities that exist within their organisation. Crucially, in the spirit of democratisation this means giving employees the tools that provide a personalised view of these opportunities, such as understanding which other employees held similar positions in the past and what trajectory their careers took and creating interpersonal networks so that they can connect with one another.


  1. The Death of Rank and Yank? Employee Feedback Should be a Loop not an Annual Event

Promoting and acting with transparency is also crucial in engaging employees and stimulating the workforce. Today’s employees want to be heard, and having the capability for HR to quickly gauge workforce sentiment via digital tools can be an easy way to capture sentiment and to understand the concerns of employees so that they can be addressed. This is not always evident at some companies, particularly with the annual performance review, which is fast becoming irrelevant. Due to the speed at which employee roles change and how projects evolve, having an annual check-in becomes increasingly insufficient. Having a single annual review can be demoralising, while restricting feedback sessions to only one or two sessions per year can be equally demotivating, particularly when there are performance issues to be addressed.

Measuring an employee’s performance, whether stellar or pointing to areas for improvement, should not be carried out in isolation. The tools now exist that allow HR to capture, measure and aggregate information in real-time, creating an environment which drives regular, ongoing feedback and puts the process in the hands of the employee so they can actively participate in their development. Providing regular check-ins rather than annual reviews are necessary so that the discussions are timely, relevant and therefore effective.

By 2020, PWC believes that millennials will account for almost half the global workforce, which gives today’s HR leaders a narrow window to get this right for all employees. Businesses need HR leaders who are capable of becoming change agents, and creating working cultures which inspire collaboration, transparency, and employee empowerment. That means a shift in culture, and a greater understanding of how technology can enable the real-time feedback and access to information that the workforce truly craves.

Author: Editorial Team

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