News and Insights

Employers Take Note: The Workplace of the Future Needs to Focus on Employee Engagement

January 4, 2023

Originally published on Ad Age on December 26, 2022

Would you put up with a computer that only works a third of the time? Would your C-suite be satisfied if your sales team worked only on Tuesdays and a half day on Friday? Would you keep a supplier that only kept its factories running 10 days a month?

Of course not.

And yet, when it comes to employee engagement, many companies accept similar results as the norm. Since 2000, the share of employees Gallup considers “engaged” at work has never topped 36 percent. This amounts to a fairly lackluster performance from leaders and investors who often patronizingly call employees “our most valuable asset.”

Today, however, we’re in the midst of a global shakeup sparked by a handful of factors that has the potential to reshape the employee/employer relationship and rewrite the rules of employee engagement.  These factors include the pandemic, social unrest, racial reckoning, and historically low unemployment matched by historically high job growth.  Additional considerations such as hybrid work and mental health awareness result in calls for equity and inclusion that can’t be ignored.

The workplace of the future is going to take years to sort out, but one thing is certain: in the short-term, companies can’t afford complacency. That’s why 2023, in spite of the ongoing uncertainty, could be an exciting year for employee engagement. Here are five predictions for what’s ahead.

1. Upskilling and reskilling will swing into high gear

In 2022, job seekers ranked career development as one of their top needs. That’s not likely to change in 2023. With quit rates high and talent attraction more competitive than ever, companies will look beyond low-cost, off-the-shelf upskilling offerings. Providing career-enhancing training and education opportunities to employees proves they’re valued and worthy of investment.

2. The people-person manager will rise

An employee’s relationship with their manager is critical to how they feel about a job — and whether they stay. Today’s pandemic-weary workers want managers who can understand and support them as humans, not just as employees. Look for companies to hire and train managers for so-called soft skills like empathy and understanding. It’s a human-forward approach that also will show up in communications, branding, and employee experiences. And don’t underestimate the power of positivity. “Great managers help colleagues learn and grow, recognize their colleagues for doing great work, and make them truly feel cared about. In environments like this, workers thrive,” according to Gartner.

3. Companies will write a new playbook for building culture

For some employees, remote work has been a godsend, providing freedom from microaggressions and petty politics. For others, it’s the worst; it’s isolating with too many temptations to quietly quit. How will companies build (or rebuild) strong cultures and strong connections among team members in dispersed environments? There’s no playbook for how to do it, which is why we’re likely to see a lot of innovation and experimentation in 2023. There’s one thing we all can agree on: out with the Zoom happy hours and in with meaningful connections. Look for the rise in mentoring programs, onboarding, and new-hire team-building activities.

4. Flexibility will be the new normal (at some companies)

With team members working across time zones and even continents, the old container of 40 firmly set hours, keyed to a specific time zone, with inflexible expectations about availability is just out of touch with the times. Many workers value — and actively seek — flexibility over rigidity in their employers. Even as some companies demand a return to the office, many others will embrace asynchronous work and find new ways for employees working on different days and in different ways to achieve great things together. This is harder to systematize, of course. But that’s where adaptive, human-centric leadership comes in, and in 2023, we’ll see more of it.

5. Expect to set expectations

The key to avoiding disappointments is aligning on expectations, clearing the way for everything from work/life balance to success measures and timing for that next promotion. Beleaguered managers, and their teams, will all be better served by updated job descriptions, SMART goals, and regular check-ins. Look for an increase in trainings, tools and requests from HR and your new hires to commit to job clarity, performance metrics, and defined career maps. To the extent it’s all served up by one of the emerging online performance management tools, all the better for transparency and accountability.

Final thoughts

The events of the past three years have torn asunder the workaday world that gave form and structure to our lives. Today, we’re in a rebuilding phase, one where workers demand better from their employers. Companies will do well to listen. At the end of the day, employee engagement is about meeting employees where they are. Companies that show they care about workers will have the edge. Luckily, many companies are doing just that, finding new ways to value employee well-being. They’re demonstrating that trying new ways of working, even when imperfect, can yield success. For workers, that’s good news. For the year ahead, I hope for the best.

POSTED BY: Betsy Henning

Betsy Henning