The Future of Employee Engagement 

future of engagement 2020

New Year is always a time of reflection, and hope, for the forthcoming year.

The start of 2020 seems particularly poignant as we’re entering a whole new decade. So much has changed across society and work within the last ten years, and we’re now on the brink of further unprecedented shifts, as we move away from the close relationship we’ve held with the European Union for more than 45 years.

We ended 2019 with a fabulous Engage for Success Volunteers’ event in London, which was filled with the usual stimulating conversations, and updates from the various Thought and Action Groups.

One panel session in particular stood out for me, as it considered the whole concept of Employee Engagement.

It’s been ten years now since Nita Clarke and David MacLeod submitted their findings on Employee Engagement to UK Government, together with their recommendation to set up a national taskforce to promote Employee Engagement as a key driver of organisational productivity, sharing stories of good practice along the way.

In the last decade, the movement has achieved extraordinary things with very few resources.

We’ve seen the publication of strong evidence linking Employee Engagement to organisational performance. We’ve seen an abundance of Thought and Action Groups that have coordinated some fantastic research initiatives, digging further into Engagement, and lobbying to convince more UK organisations of its pivotal importance.

And yet, in parallel, there’s still ongoing debate about what Employee Engagement actually is, and how best to measure it. It seems there are still many organisations in the UK who continue to view employees as simply ‘resources’ to be managed, with scant regard for the psychology of work, and the key ingredients for optimally performing teams.

In my organisation, we analyse and distil emergent work trends, to help UK SME business leaders implement strategies that help them successfully adapt to rapidly evolving operating landscapes.

As a topic, the future of work has its roots in academic thinking that goes back several decades, but even a review of events that have changed the nature of work in just the last ten years, shows the size and scope of the change that is all around us.

Change is only set to accelerate in the next decade. When we look back ten years from now, my guess is that we’ll hardly recognise our workplaces and our working practices.

How organisational leaders choose to set their strategic course through this period of uncertainty remains to be seen. Technology will inevitably and irrevocably transform the work that we do and the very nature of commerce itself.

There are many who say we’re approaching the end of ‘work’, and that software and machines will replace humans in the workplace.

I don’t doubt that technology will create vast efficiency, but I’d argue that there is still much work for humans to do, to bring highly personalised and bespoke experiences to customers and stakeholders, across the piste.

To create these customised and standout experiences however, we’ll need workers who, regardless of employment status or contract type, are more engaged than ever before. Employee Engagement is set to become a stand-out superpower for those organisations that recognise the value of human connection and empathy in driving creativity and innovation.

We live in a data driven world. Peter Drucker’s famous statement, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”, governs management and leadership thinking today.

Yet how do we measure human emotion? How can we quantify things like belonging, connection and satisfaction?

We know in our hearts when we’re engaged, and when we’re not, be that at work, or in everyday life. Employee engagement can be hard to measure, because we’re searching for hard proof points in the messy intangibility of what it means to be human and to feel motivated.

As we look forwards into 2020, my bet is that those organisations who continue to search for empirical evidence of engagement before taking positive action, are largely missing the point.

Those organisations who just get on and focus on humanity at work will win – both market share, and access to a whole different level of human performance. Here’s to continuing to champion the Employee Engagement cause.

Cat Barnard, Partner, Working the Future / EFS TAG Chair, The Future of Employee Engagement

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