The Importance of Employee Engagement in 2021

2020 was the year of unusual employee engagement trends. After a sharp increase in employee engagement in May, the United States saw a drop in engagement from 38% to 31% in June. Then, engagement rebounded to a new high of 40%.

You may be asking–why is employee engagement important? Amongst all the other things businesses are stressed about right now, why should you be concerned about employee engagement in 2021?

Engagement is still associated with performance outcomes

First and foremost, plenty of research has been conducted on the topic indicating that high employee engagement has significant ties to performance outcomes. 

Even through the whirlwind of 2020, Gallup’s 2020 Meta-Analysis of Employee Engagement and Performance found that highly-engaged business teams and units experienced outcomes such as:

  • 81% lower absenteeism
  • 43% lower turnover for low-turnover organizations
  • 64% fewer safety incidents
  • 41% fewer quality incidents
  • 18% higher productivity
  • 23% higher profitability

Making the most of what you have 

With many companies downsizing, restructuring, slashing budgets, and having to make do with fewer resources, it makes sense to focus on engagement to ensure you’re making the most of what resources you have. 

As you can see from the numbers above, employee engagement has a very real impact on business success. An engaged workforce maintains a sense of commitment to the organization and strives to perform highly, even in the face of challenges. 

What does remote work mean for employee engagement? 

It’s likely that remote work will remain the norm for many firms in the United States for a large part of 2021. That said, remote work brings changes to the way we communicate and receive feedback.

Gallup showed that remote workers can have higher engagement than in-office workers when they receive frequent feedback from managers. Frequent feedback is key to keeping employees engaged, but without a communication system in place, it can quickly fall to the wayside. The most highly-engaged workers are remote workers who receive feedback a few times per week. 

To keep employee engagement high with a remote or flexible workforce, organizations must maintain frequent communication with employees. 

In 2021, belonging is the top driver of employee engagement

In a global study, Qualtrics assessed over 11,800 participants at the end of 202 to understand what is driving employee engagement. The findings suggest that the new driver of employee engagement is belonging.

What is belonging? Belonging is a basic human need–like food and shelter–that represents a connection with a place or with people. 

Among other things, it’s driven by:

  • Managers: employees who trust their managers and believe that they care about them as individuals experience a high sense of belonging
  • Open and honest communication
  • Feeling like a valued member of the team
  • Feeling that you can be yourself at work

In 2021, fostering belonging in the workplace by listening to the needs of individual people is key to driving engagement. 

Keep these things in mind when assessing employee engagement

  • Ask fewer, more focused questions on pulse and engagement surveys. Employees have a lot on their plates right now, so you don’t want to fatigue them with long surveys. 
  • Look for actionable items to improve engagement, and track those action items. Be sure to follow through with any promises you make to improve areas that affect engagement. This builds trust and shows employees you’re taking steps to take action on their feedback

Although the concept may have been introduced decades ago and outshined in recent years by other HR buzzwords, employee engagement still merits attention in 2021. Organizations that take steps to keep employees highly engaged will be ready for whatever lies ahead post-pandemic and beyond.