Employee engagement drivers are shifting thanks to hybrid work

A new driver has emerged as the number one factor in maintaining engagement

Employee engagement drivers are shifting thanks to hybrid work

As organisations redefine how they work in 2021 and beyond, key questions keep resurfacing. While hybrid work offers a raft of benefits, it has its challenges too. Businesses are wondering, how do we keep our people engaged if remote working continues long-term?

With greater physical distance from the office comes the possibility for engagement and connection to crumble. For hybrid to be successful for years to come, HRDs must tackle the engagement conundrum head on.

New research by Qualtrics revealed that the top driver of engagement has changed over the last 12 months. In previous surveys, confidence in senior leadership and their ability to give employees a clear direction of where the company is heading has come out on top. But Qualtrics’ latest employee experience trends indicated that after the pandemic, employees’ sense of belonging has become the biggest driver of engagement.

Speaking to HRD, Steve Bennetts, head of growth & strategy of employee experience solutions at Qualtrics APJ, said organisations need to rethink how they approach certain moments of the employee lifecycle.

“We’ve seen some of the core drivers of engagement have radically shifted, more so than we've ever seen during any period of time that we've studied engagement,” he said.

“As a response, we have to rethink the model of how we create a sense of belonging among employees. For example on day one, it’s not so much about getting the new employee their laptop but if you've got somebody working remote, how do you get them to link in with their team? What does that look like at the end of the first day or first week and do they feel like they're part of that organisation?”

Read more: Engagement is everything: The key to inspiring a young workforce

Key moments like onboarding present an opportunity to create that sense of belonging, Bennetts said, but only if it’s intentional. In a hybrid world, new employees going into the office for the first time may not necessarily meet their team members face-to-face, so these drivers have to be built into the onboarding process.

Qualtrics identified the second biggest driver of engagement as helping individuals meet their career goals. Pride in the company’s efforts to have a positive impact on the world ranked third, with having confidence in senior leadership at fourth. Naturally, the research found a high correlation between the feeling of belonging and a high level of wellbeing.

But as organisations begin to juggle their employees’ desire for flexibility with the needs of the business, which will prevail? Many workers are reluctant to give up their hard-won flexibility gains as a result of the pandemic.

Jason Laufner, Qualtrics ANZ’s country manager, said priorities have changed and employers need to respect that if they want to maintain high levels of engagement. Whether they’ve taken on extra responsibilities caring for elderly relatives, or they now have a lockdown-inspired canine to look after, employee demands have shifted.

“Everybody has a different experience of what's happening in the background, but the underlying piece to recognise here is that the expectations have changed, and the ability to work remotely is now available because of the rapid technological changes,” he said.

“There might have been some old paradigms where people thought working remotely just couldn't happen here. But after being thrust into it, they discovered some really great insights and shifts that happened for their workforce.”

Read more: Who is responsible for engagement in the 'new normal'?

Laufner said Qualtrics’ research has shown that out of the three working arrangements most commonly used by organisations – hybrid, in office, and remote – hybrid has the most benefits in areas like wellbeing and engagement. Respondents reported a 10% rise in their ability to be customer focused in a hybrid environment, compared to being either in the office or remote fulltime.

As the fight for talent continues to get tougher in Australia, organisations may no longer have a choice about whether they retain a certain level of flexibility once COVID-19 is behind us. Either they match the competitors in the market, or they risk losing staff who are no longer willing to negociate their work/life balance. Either way, staying one step ahead of the curve is going to be key.

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