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Patrick Pearson

Employee engagement for digital natives

The causal link between staff engagement and financial profitability is irrefutable. Companies are taking heed and the Internal Communications function has formed a strong alliance with HR to build engagement, develop the employee experience and establish a distinct corporate culture. And yet, according to a recent Gallup State of the Global Workplace report, 85% of employees worldwide are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work. Why so?

Expectations are changing

One reason for the widespread lack of engagement is that expectations are changing, particularly with regard to internal communication. Employees are struggling to communicate in the way they expect to: openly, collaboratively and unrestricted, with a seat at every table and the ability to influence beyond their direct remit. This frustration is exacerbated now that digital natives are rising up the corporate ranks.

HR leaders acknowledge this gap between expectation and experience as a consistent problem (Gartner: 2019 HR Executive Priorities). In the Gartner survey, 67% of HR leaders agreed with the statement ‘If my company does not become more significantly digitised by 2020, it will no longer be competitive.’ The majority also agreed on the need for more effort to empathise with their employees’ values and to address key elements of culture, EVP and employee engagement.

Digital is king

Randstad’s Employer Brand Research 2019 revealed some interesting stats: factors influencing workers to join a company are its use of the most up to date tools (80%), innovative culture (72%) and reputation as a leader in digitisation (62%). Furthermore, about 40% of workers said they left a company because they lacked access to state-of-the-art digital tools.

Looking beyond millennials, Gen Z is the next demographic that employers need to understand and engage with, if they are to attract and retain talent. Gen Z will set the digital experience bar even higher. Gatehouse’s State of the Sector 2019 report noted that one of the top barriers to success in employee engagement is ‘Internal technology not deemed fit for purpose’. Companies are responding to consumer expectations in relation to technology-led marketing, but are not necessarily applying the same logic internally.

Make it personal

VMA Group’s Inside Insight 2018 survey revealed that 70% of internal communications professionals rate the use of digital communications and social media as poor or average in their organisation. That compares with just 53% for external communications.

Companies are making strides in using the latest intranet, app and social media tools to build a collective community and foster team spirit, with communication and idea sharing at the heart. But they need to spend more time understanding what employees really value and responding accordingly.

One expectation that is often overlooked is personalisation, driven by the fact that people spend more and more time online and that every facet of our online lives can be customised to our preferences and interests: from buying clothes, to downloading music and curating our friends’ social media pages.  Yet internal communications has not kept pace with the trend towards personalisation. It still tends to take a one-size-fits-all approach.

Remote working is the new norm

Technology is allowing companies to move from a physical office space to a flexible, virtual working space. Today, more than 70% of employees in the UK no longer work from a desk in one location.

Yet the shift towards flexible working is a headache for internal communicators, with ‘hard to reach employees’ cited as a barrier to success in internal communications by over 40% of respondents to   the Gatehouse survey. The new 5G infrastructure - 100 times quicker than 4G, with broader coverage and greater reliability – presents an opportunity for internal communications to reach out and engage with the tech savvy, mobile addicted millennials and Gen Z workers whose skills companies are all competing for.

Employee apps are an ideal solution, marrying the best elements of intranets and social media, global and local news, management missives and user-generated content. Staffbase, one of the leading mobile employee app platforms, claims a number of business outcomes including ‘boost productivity by 5% per 15% reduction in wasted time’ and ‘reduce revenue loss due to change-related stress by 41.2%’.

Give employees a voice

Research has shown that companies that make employee engagement central to their business strategy show over 20% greater profitability. Engaged employees show up every day with passion, purpose, presence, and energy, resulting in 41% reduction in absenteeism and 59% less turnover (Gallup, State of the Global Workplace 2017).

Internal communications is pivotal, especially during times of change. Employees expect to be kept informed and, above all, to be heard, not just once per year in an employee survey but continuously. Employees whose companies promote genuine dialogue, not just top-down but peer-to-peer and bottom-up, are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.

The business case for employee engagement has never been stronger. Companies that invest heavily in customer-facing technology need to apply the same principles internally. Those that do tune into the expectations of their own digital natives will ensure that, while plugged into their personal lives, they do not check out of their professional ones.

Black Sun’s work with Vesuvius on the development and launch of their V.LINK employee app was awarded bronze for ‘Best Use of mobile or apps’ at the Internal Communications and Engagement Awards 2019.