Always on employee engagement – what is it and what are the key drivers?

Organisations are always looking to improve the way they manage employees and employee engagement continues to be one of hottest topics, but also one of the major challenges for businesses. As outlined in this post on Forbes, as the workplace continues to evolve to a more fluid and less structured environment, and the demands and expectations of today’s multi-generational workforce change, the relationship between employer and employee is changing. But one area that persists for many organisations is the concept of the annual review. Stubbornly resistant to change, many employers are locked into the idea of the once-a-year survey sent out by a manager or by HR who can then use it to benchmark performance year on year or as part of a box-ticking exercise.

There are those who champion the need to move away from a backward-looking, once-a-year mindset that is both time-consuming and unpopular. In an era when people want a more flexible, agile approach to work, the annual approach does not allow an employer to have a real-time view of things or to take real-time action. Feedback is old or just focuses on what an employee can remember, and the opportunity is more often than not used to vent grievances rather than for positive forward-looking discussions. This rear-view mirror approach to employee engagement is no longer fit for purpose. To maintain high levels of engagement and productivity and to encourage a culture of openness and honesty, employers should focus on continuous engagement with their workforce through an ‘always on’ approach.


So, what does “always-on” mean?

‘Always-on’ engagement means building initiatives directly into the way your organisation operates and communicates. Putting procedures and systems in place to enable you to create a vocal and transparent culture could be the most impactful change you will ever make. Employees want a permanent voice in the business and to be able to influence the things that impact them day to day. An ‘always-on’ approach gives employees the opportunity to share ideas, concerns and feedback in a regular and timely way. This way, employers can gather critical feedback in a streamlined and efficient way making it easier for them to make decisions when they matter most and to tackle issues or concerns immediately.

In the last 5 years alone, organisation’s have seen major steps forward in the development of technologies and techniques to help improve the way that they can engage with employees. The latest technology focuses on micro surveys that provide employers with the ability to measure their workforce’s engagement frequently and continuously.

To get the most out of an always-on survey, you need to make them accessible, timely and something that people want to get involved in. There can be as many as five generations working in our organisation’s and in an always-on world of social media and mobile apps, it is becoming normal and accepted behavior to want to share thoughts and opinions and have feedback instantly. With regular micro surveys, employees can share ideas as soon as they have them, recognise colleagues as soon as they do something worth recognising, and contribute towards key business decisions when they really matter. 


Interpreting the Data

Managing large volumes of data generated by an always-on approach can be a challenge. However, technology has made it easier to automate surveys, so employees can access them quickly and easily, and managers can analyse the data efficiently through real-time analytics tools. This means being able to segment the data; slicing and dicing feedback, comments and suggestions by team, department or even location, which will allow businesses to drive positive change in the right areas of the organisation and, crucially, save time. 

Technology also allows for speed, so a survey question about a particular issue like a company change in direction or corporate strategy, can be sent out to pulse check employee concerns. Or bespoke questions can be integrated into regular surveys to assess current feeling or to gauge why engagement seems to lower in different parts of the business. The key here is flexibility and enabling managers and the HR department to provide timely feedback to senior decision makers.

It is important that employers factor in the matter of how to respond to and engage with employees throughout the process. An always-on approach should not just be one-way, or it is bound to fail. It’s important that you acknowledge, respond to and validate what employees are saying. Online tools such as Glassdoor have demonstrated that responding to employees in real time show them that they are being listened to and therefore its likely to increase buy-in to any future engagement initiatives. Forward thinking organisations can see the ability to have this two way communication and are using tools internally to gauge and gather feedback to engage their employees.


Getting it wrong

Disengagement has a huge impact on turnover and productivity and can make it even harder to attract fresh talent if the organisational culture is wrong. According to Hay Group, disengagement has a huge impact on turnover and productivity estimated to cost the UK £340bn every year.  As the competition for talent intensifies, and organisations increasing face market pressures, the need for an engaged workforce, and the ability to measure and improve upon this, will take centre stage.

In Darwinian terms, the winners will be those organisations that can adapt and respond to change most effectively in order to survive. Promote a culture of communication, make employee engagement core to your business and give your employees a regular voice that is heard.

So, is your organisation going to survive or will it thrive? Is it stuck in the same mindset as always, forever consigned to ticking the same boxes as those that have gone before, or if there another way?

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Ady Howes - Community Manager, DPG

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