Employee Engagement top HR challenge in 2018

Word on the street is that ‘employee engagement’ is no longer in the spotlight. It’s all about employee experience and employee journeys. Yet new research by Cascade HR revealed that employee engagement is still the biggest hurdle for human resources in 2018. Not only that, the 2018 HR Landscape: What’s In Store? survey found little difference to the results 2017. So, does that mean we are not making any progress?

We’re are pretty good at translating our WeListen employee survey results into action, so in true form we’ve taken a dive into these findings to discover some actionable takeaways for HR Directors, Managers and Executives alike. So, you can get cracking and reach your employee engagement goals in 2018.

Top HR challenges from the 2018 HR Landscape survey

Let’s start with a quick summary on HR challenges from the 2018 HR Landscape survey. Based on the input of the 447 HR Directors, Managers and Executives surveyed…

The top challenges for HR in 2017 were:

  • 52% Recruitment
  • 43% Absence Management
  • 39% Employee Engagement
  • 37% Retention

What this means:

We are not surprised at these findings, the whole Brexit saga has a lot to answer for especially for the financial sector. Every business will face different challenges, but the common ground here highlights a competitive landscape in a weakened economy. Talented employees are holding out for the right job and have the confidence to move on when they are not happy.

The top HR obstacles for 2018 are:

  • 44% employee engagement
  • 36% staff retention
  • 33% absence management and recruitment
  • 26% succession and planning

What this means:

It’s a good sign that HR are switching their focus to employee engagement as a top obstacle. It demonstrates a raised awareness of just how much impact employee engagement has on the whole picture. If employees are happier and engaged this will impact recruitment, staff retention and absenteeism. The next step will be to unpack what ‘employee engagement’ actually means. Widening the lens on a fuller view to employee experience as a whole and a focus towards employee wellbeing. Hopefully, we will see this trend rise in next years results.

Why is employee engagement important?

Absenteeism and staff retention is talked about alot in HR circles, which is further demonstrated by these survey results. That’s because the cost of these HR issues collectively for a business are huge, and as a whole engaging staff with the business is seen as the best answer to resolving these issues. While there are many other drivers to employee satisfaction, HR Directors and Managers know that when employee engagement goes down, employee turnover rises and absence increases. Therefore, the theory is that if staff are actively involved and passionate about the business, they are more likely to be happy in there job, loyal to the business and want to go into the office.

Why improving employee engagement isn’t the only answer

Engagement is the final piece of a very complex puzzle and there is no one answer for every single employee to get them to that point. For example, we recently discussed the rising issue of presenteeism in the workplace. A negative work culture brought about by fearful employees who go to work even when they are unwell or struggling with mental health. An invisible problem hidden by employees, which is particularly concerning for its costly implications both for employee wellbeing and business productivity.

This is the kind of HR issue missed if you focused too broadly on employee engagement challenges and don’t explore subconscious factors that are impacting employee engagement levels. Incidentally, if resolved these subconscious drivers can also help drive up your employee engagement score, helping you to become a Top 100 Employer.

Why good intentions didn’t pay off in 2017

The HR Landscape results also revealed that 74% of the HR Directors, Managers and Executives surveyed didn’t excel or make progress with their employee engagement challenges last year. It’s likely that the biggest reason for this lack of progress is that there is a world of good intention initiated by HR, but managers just don’t have the time to deliver against those expectations. Not only that they are under pressure to meet unrealistic targets and may not have the experience or the insight to facilitate those changes. As Christoph Williams, talent and performance manager at Sony Europe put it in HR Magazine recently:

“To me there are several areas leading to low engagement… Managers are being asked to take on too much and are not able to focus on leading their teams, too much emphasis is being placed upon colleagues working as individuals rather than as a team, and there’s been too much emphasis on efficiency rather than rewarding work.”

He goes on to explain that while employee engagement is a complex issue, a focus on personal fulfilment is needed to start to address the problem.

“Research has long shown that paying employees large sums of money is not enough to keep them happy at work… Employee engagement has to start with an understanding of the psychological impact a job has on an individual.”

Common employee engagement strategies in 2017

To demonstrate our point let’s look at some common employee engagement strategies. This is what many employers currently do to combat the issue of Employee Engagement:

  • Run annual employee surveys to show they care what employees think
  • Have regular 121’s and set goals for the month / quarter / year
  • Include staff benefits like free booze, pool tables and regular socials
  • Offer quirky employee bonus schemes and rewards
  • Offer inflated salary packages to attract top talent

All positive steps in the right direction. However, time constraints and business pressures often stunt any progress beyond those actions. These ‘empty promises’ lead to frustration and widen the employee engagement gap. For example, if the employee survey results revealed that your employees want flexibility and development over company perks, those free drinks and socials will just remind them that you didn’t listen.

So, what can you do next to make a real difference in 2018?

To make these employee engagement strategies effective, employers need to also:

  • Actually take visible action on the employee survey results
  • Train their managers to have meaningful 121 conversations that evolve
  • Encourage education with employees to help them meet their goals
  • Say a simple thank you during the working day
  • Deliver the flexible working environment top talent expects

Steps that transform those good intentions into positive results. For employees and employers alike.


Time to make some real progress in 2018

The reason the term ‘employee engagement’ has started to be considered a little dated, is because it’s actually a small part of a much more diverse issue. The term ‘employee engagement’ doesn’t really do the complexities of employee satisfaction justice and attempting to resolve ‘engagement’ is somewhat of a red herring. In fact, improving employee satisfaction, caring about employee wellbeing and motivating staff will improve employee experience as a whole and deliver the employee engagement results.

With that in mind, we would say that while Employee Engagement is important, actually it’s more important to get to the root cause of the unique challenges your employees face. Engagement is the endpoint of the entire employee experience. A journey that starts with listening.

Ready to listen? Find out more about our employee engagement software.

Employee Engagement Guide

Posted by Andrew Heath on January 22, 2018

Andrew Heath, Co-Founder of WeThrive employee engagement platform, is passionate about creating better employee experiences in the workplace. Because life is too short to feel unhappy at work! You can reach out and connect with Andrew on LinkedIn

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