Strategies for employee engagement and retention in a hybrid workplace
Recruiting top talent and keeping employees happy starts with meeting new workforce demands. These workplace engagement strategies can help build a strong culture that attracts and retains employees.
It's been nearly three years now, and organizations continue to struggle to find the right balance with the workplace flexibility that began out of necessity. The wave of resignations starting in 2021 has led companies to search for new talent at unprecedented levels. And as companies hire outside their footprint, they scramble to adopt practices for a scattered workforce. This cycle has created uncertainty for both organizations and workers, but the one positive aspect is that everybody across industries is feeling the strain.
"Nobody has it all figured out yet," says Matthew Hall, Business Manager and Colleague Experience Director at Huntington. "Organizations have the unique opportunity to find what works best for them. Accomplishing this means listening, setting clear expectations, and being willing to learn and adjust practices."
Organizations can take what they learned about employee engagement during the early days of the pandemic to create an even better workplace. But they need to be intentional and authentic about that effort to make a lasting change that results in better recruitment and retention.
"How are we taking what we've learned already and thinking about what the workplace of the future might look like?" says Hall. "Because if you're not doing that now and you're going to wait until you get to the new normal, you may be too late because other companies have started to change the way they're doing things."
Understand where your organization is right now
Workers and organizations face an impending economic downturn, continued information, and wage compression. Adding uncertainty to that mix in the form of shifting workplace policies on flexibility and benefits can lead to burnout and low engagement.
A Gallup study of more than 14,000 U.S. workers in 2022 found just 32% of employees surveyed are engaged at work, down from 36% in 2020†
Setting strict rules to combat those unknowns is tempting, but Hall cautions against thinking in absolutes. Restricting flexibility or requiring workers to return to the office full-time could result in resignations, not increased engagement. According to a 2022 survey of 1,000 workers by global recruiting firm Robert Half, 50% of workers surveyed said they would look for a new job if forced to return to the office full time‡.
Understanding how your employees are feeling now can help your organization better align its policies and processes for the future. Regular, anonymous employee sentiment surveys offer insights into your workforce, allowing you to set benchmarks for engagement and retention. However, organizations must commit to learning from and responding to these results. Surveying employees without following through on their feedback could lead to lackluster responses in the future. Your employees may feel disengaged, and you'll lose your route for soliciting honest feedback.
Colleague experience can impact and drive performance, explains Hall. If survey results and one-on-one conversations with employees demonstrate strong performance, satisfaction, and engagement, changing the work environment might not be necessary.
Creating connections virtually and in person
Maintaining connection and engagement when a portion of the workforce operates primarily outside the office has been challenging since the pandemic began. A 2022 Microsoft survey of 20,000 people found 68% of surveyed decision-makers say shifting to hybrid work has made maintaining social connections within their teams challenging. Employees feel this as well; 43% surveyed say they feel disconnected from their company since the shift§.
Remote and hybrid work, however, is here to stay. Companies have shifted to a national strategy for recruitment over the last few years and hired outside their geographic footprint, meaning some employees have no office to go to anyway. Additionally, employee sentiment surveys show remote or hybrid workers tend to have higher engagement than their in-office counterparts: 37% of surveyed remote or hybrid employees are considered engaged, compared with 29% of on-site workers, according to a 2022 Gallup study¶.
Since shifting employees back to the office to reform social bonds may not be the answer, organizations should endeavor to build that camaraderie virtually. Hall recommends employers empower and support employees to schedule teleconferencing hang-outs—a virtual lunch or a post-work virtual happy hour—to chat informally and build relationships. If your company is asking employees to meet in person for meetings, training, or social gatherings, make that time count. Requiring people to return to the office to sit alone at their desks won't deepen engagement.
Encouraging people to form and join employee-run committees and resource groups also offers opportunities for employees to connect outside their immediate teams. These offerings could help employees form bonds with peers and leadership they otherwise wouldn't have outside the office.
Tell your story from day one
Feeling connected to your organization is a significant driver of employee engagement. Start employees off on their first day understanding your company's purpose and values, Hall recommends. Then continue reinforcing that message throughout an employee's time at your organization.
"It's about telling your story. Regardless of where someone works, what matters is how you bring them into the organization," he says. "It is your organization's and leadership's responsibility to embrace those values and ensure every employee feels connected to them."
Business Manager and Colleague Experience Director, Huntington Bank
Onboarding processes should be refreshed to reflect the new realities of the job and work conditions. Hall recommends reviewing current onboarding plans and asking what further information is needed in virtual sessions and what can be eliminated because it no longer applies.
"The good thing is that this could actually benefit organizations in the longer term because they can learn some things now that can be built into their onboarding practices moving forward," Hall says.
For example, consider developing an onboarding and training curriculum that demonstrates your company's culture, including activities that support your customers and community. When individuals see how their work ties into those results, they often have higher engagement with and connection to their organization.
Embrace transparency to build trust
In today's highly competitive hiring environment, transparency could make or break an organization's ability to hire and retain talent.
Starting wages and benefits need to meet the market's demands, but organizations need to balance talent recruitment with retention. A Gartner HR Research study found that just 32% of employees surveyed believe their pay is fair≠. Employees who believe their compensation isn't equitable have a 15% lower intent to stay with their employer and are less engaged. Interestingly, this perception isn't usually based on actual compensation but rather on employees' overall trust in their organizationⱢ.
Establishing trust with employees is no simple feat, but it has become critical in keeping your workforce feeling valued and happy. Increasing transparency into your organization's hiring practices and compensation, including starting salaries as well as plans to address pay inequity, can go a long way in building trust, says Hall.
"Share where your organization is heading and the reasons behind your decisions," he says. "The answers might not always be what employees want to hear, but that openness builds trust between employees, leadership, and the entire company."
Transparency within an organization goes beyond hiring and wages. Economic and global uncertainties are weighing on everyone, and reassuring employees of the company's standing can help ease those concerns. Hall recommends sharing regular updates on your performance and goals. Be open about how your organization plans to tackle headwinds in the coming months and years. Employees who feel confident in the company's direction and role might opt to stay in their role rather than looking elsewhere.
Adapt retention and recruitment processes to meet shifting workforce demands
Workforce expectations have changed markedly since the beginning of the pandemic. Opportunities offered out of necessity at the time are now considered the norm, if not non-negotiable.
"The expectation is there for companies to continue to provide increased benefits, time off, and workplace flexibility," says Hall. "These offerings have become not just a nice to have but a must-have for employment."
The bar has been set. But even companies extending these benefits to candidates still have one more expectation to meet in today's market: Growth opportunities. The ability to grow and learn within an organization became such a high priority that 56% of surveyed employees and 68% of surveyed business leaders stated there aren't enough growth opportunities to make them stay with their current company long-termⱠ.
Presenting employees with learning opportunities through online training and classes is a good start. Still, Hall says the goal should be developing a culture that empowers employees to take control of their growth.
"Ultimately, employees own their careers. But there needs to be a cultural mindset within a company that allows people to explore outside their role," says Hall. "Is leadership making themselves available to meet with employees? Is knowledge sharing encouraged? How do you empower employees to control their careers and growth?"
Four actionable steps to consider to boost employee engagement and retention:
- Collect data through surveys and team conversations to understand how your employees feel about your organization – and commit to using feedback to change for the better.
- Tell your company's story by incorporating your culture, values, and purpose into your training curriculum, beginning with new hire orientation. Make sure every employee understands the company's purpose and their role in that mission.
- Encourage employee involvement through committees, employee resource groups, and other in-person or virtual engagement opportunities. When requesting employees come into the office outside their regular schedule, ensure the team is spending time wisely.
- Develop a culture that allows colleagues to own their careers by advancing their skills, moving within an organization, growing in their roles, and learning from others within the organization.
There is no one correct answer for how organizations can meet evolving workforce demands. Developing a workplace culture of transparency and inclusiveness, along with committing to testing and learning what works, can lead to better recruitment and retention in the future. Contact your relationship manager to learn more about adapting to today's market and increasing your bottom line.
† Harter, Jim. “U.S. Employee Engagement Slump Continues.” Gallup. April 25, 2022. Accessed January 5, 2022.
‡ Robert Half. 2022. “Half of Workers Would Rather Quit Than Return to the Office Full Time, Robert Half Research Shows.” Accessed January 5, 2022.
§ Microsoft. September 22, 2022. “Work Trend Index: Hybrid Work is Just Work. Are We Doing it Wrong?” Accessed January 5, 2022.
≠ Gartner, Inc. November 28, 2022. “Gartner HR Research Finds Only 32% of Employees Believe their Pay is Fair.” Accessed January 5, 2022.
The information provided in this document is intended solely for general informational purposes and is provided with the understanding that neither Huntington, its affiliates nor any other party is engaging in rendering financial, legal, technical or other professional advice or services, or endorsing any product or service. Any use of this information should be done only in consultation with a qualified and licensed professional who can take into account all relevant factors and desired outcomes in the context of the facts surrounding your particular circumstances. The information in this document was developed with reasonable care and attention. However, it is possible that some of the information is incomplete, incorrect, or inapplicable to particular circumstances or conditions. NEITHER HUNTINGTON NOR ITS AFFILIATES SHALL HAVE LIABILITY FOR ANY DAMAGES, LOSSES, COSTS OR EXPENSES (DIRECT, CONSEQUENTIAL, SPECIAL, INDIRECT OR OTHERWISE) RESULTING FROM USING, RELYING ON OR ACTING UPON INFORMATION IN THIS DOCUMENT EVEN IF HUNTINGTON AND/OR ITS AFFILIATES HAVE BEEN ADVISED OF OR FORESEEN THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES, LOSSES, COSTS OR EXPENSES.