7 Fascinating Employee Engagement Trends for 2016

By David Mizne

According to Bersin by Deloitte, “employee engagement has become the top issue on the minds of business leaders, directing us to an entirely new model of management”. But what does employee engagement even mean?

Few business buzzwords are more ubiquitous, yet the exact definition of employee engagement remains elusive. This becomes even more problematic when you consider Gallup’s seemingly ambiguous subcategories of not engaged, and actively disengaged.  

I like to define employee engagement as proactively and passionately adding value while aligning with the company mission. This can be hard to quantify, but an engaged employee wears it on their face, demonstrates it in their work and in their workplace communication. Kind of like how former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart defined obscenity: “I know it when i see it”.

Once we know what we are looking for, we need to be able to measure it, and more importantly create more of it. Here are 7 engagement trends for the coming year, and advice for you to create a more engaged workforce in 2016:

1. Engagement will go up (but just a little).

According to Gallup’s latest poll: employee engagement has been pretty stagnant. Only 32% of U.S. workers were engaged in their jobs in 2015, compared to 31.5% the previous year. Given the other trends below, and the fact that engagement has risen from 29% in 2011, we can expect to see the needle move in 2016. But probably not more than a point or two.

Free Bonus: Download this list as a PDF. Includes updated stats and 3 trends and ideas not found in this post.

2. Millennials will (still) provide a challenge.

In 2015, millennials became the largest generation in the US workforce. That number is expected to rise dramatically as more boomers retire and more graduates start their careers. Some predictions are as high as 75% of the workforce by 2030! (Although that myth was debunked in this Wall Street Journal post. It’s actually more like 44%).

Whatever the specific number, Generation Y is now the majority. Businesses seeking to engage employees in their work will now have to tailor their approaches to this group. Research suggests that they are driven by open communication, a great company culture, involvement with causes, and achieving purpose and fulfillment.

3. More compassionate leadership.

People don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses. It turns out that the opposite is true too. An inspiring manager creates more engaged teams. According to research by leadership development experts Dr. Brad Shuck and Maryanne Honeycutt-Elliott, “higher levels of engagement come from employees who work for a compassionate leader—one who is authentic, present, has a sense of dignity, holds others accountable, leads with integrity and shows empathy”.

4. More employee feedback more often.

We conducted an employee engagement study in 2014 and found that the vast majority of employees who received little or no feedback were actively disengaged. Engagement went up dramatically when employees received feedback about their weaknesses, and even more so when they received feedback about strengths.

Data is always nice to have, but the feedback/engagement connection is also intuitive. How much more engaged are you in any relationship, when you are having open and honest conversation about what matters most?

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5. Work/Life Balance will become Work/Life Blend.

The Society for Human Resource Management, found that the best companies are embracing flexibility. For many job-functions there is no longer any good reason to require people to come into the office every day, or for work to be done between the hours of 9am and 5pm. (I am writing this from my kitchen table at 7:30 at night). More companies will continue on this path as long as the numbers prove it’s working.

6. People analytics will grow.

In his article published in Harvard Business Review last month, Sean Graber argues that it’s important to look at employees’ perceptions and behaviors and their impact on performance. Managers can then decide how to shift things to increase engagement. In Sean’s consulting, he melds analytics with qualitative feedback by looking at aggregated data from surveys as well as self-reported behaviors:

Over time, organizations can track how their employees’ engagement changes and how it relates to key performance indicators (KPIs), such as sales, customer satisfaction, and attrition.

Josh Bersin also chimes in with his article, The Geeks Arrive In HR: People Analytics Is Here. According to Bersin the shift towards “big data in HR” began in 2011 and exploded rapidly. He predicts that people analytics will be its own department that will look at productivity, turnover, and the people-issues that drive customer retention and satisfaction. In the coming years businesses will rely on hard data to pre-empt disaster by determining when engagement will suffer or when people are considering leaving.

7. Technology will focus on the employee.

Bersin (I love this guy!) explains that the HR technology market moves in 5-7 year cycles of rolling-out, implementing, and replacing tech. We are now in a transitional phase between two cycles.

One of the biggest trends we are seeing is the arrival of a “new breed of pulse tools, feedback apps, and anonymous social networking tools”. These advanced methods for having regular check-ins with employees to understand where they are being challenged will eventually replace annual performance reviews.

Business is a living, breathing entity. It undergoes change, grows and recedes, gets broken and heals. The people are the individual cells that work together to ensure that the entity is healthy, productive, and thriving. In 2016, the brain (leadership) will have more tools at its disposal to predict and improve employee engagement. Maybe in 2017 Gallup’s survey will report a positive radical shift in how people show up to work.

David Mizne is Content Manager at 15Five, a lightweight weekly check-in that delivers a full suite of integrated tools – including continuous employee feedback, OKRs, pulse surveys, and peer recognition. David interviews thought leaders & writes on trends in employee performance management. Follow him @davidmizne.

Image Credit: MSLGROUP Global



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  • Hi David, great article, thoughtful and well written. You mention the prediction of engagement using technology, do you think that predictive people analytics in general will grow in 2016?

    Cheers

    Barry

    • Mizne

      Thanks for your comment! I think so Barry Chignell. The trend is for data to have growing influence in all aspects of business. HR experts are making predictions that PA will grow, larger companies are building out proprietary software, and more startups are emerging in this space. The question is, what does 15Five have up its sleeve in this arena?

  • Erix Chavez

    Great article, work-life blend and more compassionate leadership is so important in the workplace. I was just reading this article by Terri Kabachnick on employee happiness and engagement the other day, you should check it out at http://www.kabachnick.com Thanks for the great read!

  • jimjr11

    Collecting data is not fixing the problem. The best employee data collection process in the world won’t make a bit of difference until you take politics, culture and silos out of the picture and that won’t happen until a third party reporting to the CEO is responsible for pushing every worthwhile employee suggestion all the way to the CEO if necessary. Thus rendering politics, culture and silos powerless during the project.

    • Thanks for your comment @jimjr11:disqus. I sometimes get tunnel vision since we have a smaller org with a fantastic culture that takes politics out of the equation. In the 2017 update to this post, I address how the onus is on management to support their employees, regardless of what HR Tech they are using: https://www.15five.com/blog/2017-employee-engagement-trends/

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