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Employee engagement is important – but why has it been declining?

Retention, employee wellbeing, recruitment and performance and productivity are ranked in the top five priorities for HR leaders this year, according to our most recent survey, and the key strategy for achieving these goals is listening to employees.

Active listening provides a critical lens to understand an organisation’s dynamics, pinpoint areas for improvement and channel efforts toward bolstering engagement. It’s a window that unveils the financial, productivity and cultural impact of your organisation. It also embodies the ‘face’, offering first-hand insights into the customer experience. Plus, it acts as a vital resource, highlighting risks, providing insights and fostering innovation essential for business progress. However, harnessing these benefits relies on actively listening to employees and genuinely valuing their perspectives.

Macroeconomic circumstances – high level of flux

During the pandemic, organisations shifted their focus to HR and prioritised employee wellbeing, ensuring significant support for their workforce. This led to the introduction of flexible working policies, embracing both hybrid models and fully remote setups, aimed at ensuring continuity amidst uncertainty. However, these shifts brought a new set of challenges for leaders tasked with effectively managing dispersed teams. Frontline and deskless workers in particular, bore the brunt of these changes as they grappled with this transition.

At the same time, external factors like Brexit added further complexity, making it more challenging for certain industries like hospitality to recruit and retain talent. This major upheaval further contributed to an ongoing ‘war on talent’ and led to an increase in wages as a competitive measure.

Where are we now?

Employers are beginning to urge employees to return to the office. Amid a depressed market, growth remains challenging, so boosting productivity and extracting more from limited resources is a key priority for many leaders. This pressure is acutely felt within HR, which is trying to balance top-down directives with bottom-up employee wellbeing concerns.

Yet, despite consistent efforts to boost productivity and implement new tools, the productivity paradox persists. Hopes were high that the pandemic might spur productivity, but indicates a return to pre-COVID levels. Additionally, research emphasises the UK’s workforce as one of the least engaged globally, making the situation even more complex.

There is an urgent need for change. But for this transformation to happen, organisations must understand that employee engagement and active listening aren’t just side issues; they’re fundamental pillars that demand serious attention and proactive approaches.

What does the future look like?

Employees wield more influence than ever in today’s workplace, while employers are becoming more in tune with how frontline workers feel because they understand their role in effecting meaningful change.

The recognition of feeling valued and appreciated acts as a catalyst for employee performance and sets the stage for fostering a vibrant workplace culture that attracts and retains top talent.

This presents a significant opportunity for HR leaders to take the reins and play a critical role in not just meeting but exceeding C-suite and board expectations. However, central to achieving these goals lies in enhancing leadership qualities. Trust and belief in leadership are vital for motivating and engaging employees.

How we get there

HR leaders are responsible for championing employee engagement in the business strategy, and success depends on demonstrating how closely listening to employee needs directly links to achieving organisational goals.

Our new eBook, The business case for employee engagement, aims to bridge the gap by emphasising the direct connection between engagement strategies and business objectives. Its primary goal is to empower you with the knowledge and expertise required to build a winning business case, steering discussions toward the board level. Download the eBook now by clicking here.

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