Employee Engagement

5 engagement drivers crucial to business success in 2021

If there’s one thing we can all agree on about the COVID-19 crisis, it’s that it irrevocably changed the world of work. By digitalizing so many aspects of the workday virtually overnight, the pandemic also transformed employees’ needs and expectations. Pile on to this the amount of stress, grief, and trauma everyone has suffered over the past 12+ months, and we’re staring down a vastly different talent landscape than at this time last year. As the economy begins to rebound, employers will have to rise to the occasion and transform the way they drive engagement in order to attract and retain the best talent.

While there continue to be a multitude of different engagement drivers that impact the employee experience, there are a few key elements that are newly crucial in 2021. If you want to ensure that you’re meeting employee needs regardless of whether your team members are returning to the office, remaining remote, or doing a mix of both, you have to be prepared to address new concerns in the aftermath of the pandemic. Read on to learn more about engagement drivers and what you can do to ensure your team members remain engaged now and into the future.

What are engagement drivers and why are they so important

Engagement drivers are the key aspects of your workplace that make employees love working there. These can range from physical elements including having a comfortable workspace, to emotional elements including feeling respected and valued, to technological elements including having the tools and access needed to succeed. Engagement drivers, or the lack thereof, form a big part of why employees choose to stay with their organization year after year, or why they decide to move on to another employer. At their best, they provide a strong framework for a positive employee experience. At their worst though, they’re superficial incentives that are misaligned with employees’ actual wants and needs, draining both the business and team members alike.

For many years pre-pandemic, companies invested in fun perks such as gaming tables in the office, free food and drinks, and parties, believing that they were central to employee engagement. Unfortunately, if you subscribe to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you’ll find that these efforts barely scratch the surface of what actually motivates people. With so much emphasis on ineffective engagement drivers, it’s no surprise that employee engagement levels failed to exceed 35% at any point in the years leading up to 2020. When employers started actually paying attention to employees’ health and safety, need for remote work options, and more at the beginning of the pandemic, engagement shot up to 40% for the first time ever, only to drop back down to where it had been as companies began to shift focus back away from employee support and wellbeing. If your company wants to reap the far-reaching benefits of an engaged workforce across retention, productivity, and more, it’s important to invest in engagement drivers that actually make a difference.

What engagement drivers matter most to employees in 2021

With so much upheaval over the past year, employees’ approach to work and life has changed. People have changed. The world has changed. Accordingly, employers would be extremely shortsighted to not similarly change their approach to engagement. Here are the top broad areas companies should be targeting this year to ensure they’re investing in effective engagement drivers, rather than superficial and/or outdated ones:

  1. Autonomy and flexibility. Employees want to feel trusted and empowered by their employer, not monitored and micromanaged. Much has been written about the negative effects of surveilling employees, including its impact on engagement. Employers that assume their employees will slack off without the oversight provided by an office environment demonstrate that they would rather invest in tools to make their employees more robot-like, rather than investing in actual human beings. Similarly, employees have other things going on in their lives beyond just work. They want to know that they can live their lives in addition to and alongside being high-performing team members, which means they’ll be considerably more engaged if you provide them the flexibility to work where, when, and how is best for them. Focus on making the workplace fit the employee, rather than the other way around.
  2. Digitalization and accessibility. Orient your systems and processes around usability and ease of access, and watch your engagement numbers skyrocket. Employees want to be empowered to do their best work, and then be able to disconnect and enjoy their non-work time. They don’t want to be aggravated by a tangle of systems or constantly struggling to find the information they need. After the whirlwind of the past year, it may be time to step back and take a holistic look at your technology and collaboration ecosystem and ensure that it’s optimized to provide employees a positive experience. Do you have 4 different instant messaging apps employees have to check on an ongoing basis in addition to their email? This may be contributing to disengagement as stress compounds with each message that arrives.
  3. Equity and inclusion. In addition to the pandemic, the past year has seen a reckoning with diversity and inclusion on a scale that hasn’t been reached in decades. Today, three out of four jobseekers say that the diversity of a potential employer’s workforce is important to them when evaluating opportunities. It has been an emotionally exhausting year, even more so for folx from underrepresented backgrounds whose communities continue to bear the brunt of the dual epidemics of COVID-19 and institutional racism and violence. Employees don’t want to come to work and see and experience exclusion and microaggressions. They want to work for employers whose values align with their own. Investing in making your employees feel heard, welcomed, and valued is a crucial, and too often overlooked engagement driver.
  4. Connection and wellbeing. The past year has also brought the fragility of good health into stark relief. Watching young, healthy, able-bodied people succumb to the coronavirus in a matter of days has reminded us all that our health is not something to be taken for granted. Neither is the company of good friends and colleagues. Offering usable wellness benefits, making time and space for bonding with coworkers, and other efforts that promote connection and wellbeing will go a long way towards ensuring your employees want to work their hardest for your company.
  5. Rewards and recognition. Last but certainly not least, employees want to be acknowledged for the value they bring to the organization. Let them know you appreciate them through shout-outs, bonuses, and other incentives and you’ll be paid back in increasing engagement levels. Employees are working more hours than ever, all while juggling myriad personal responsibilities and challenges, so don’t let their work go unrecognized. Make sure that managers are acknowledging their team members for jobs well done, and if you can spare the cost of a gift card here and there, remember that that could make a big difference for an employee who may have experienced changes in household income or who just needs a pick-me-up. Recognition, when delivered in ways that matter to the individual employee, is a critical engagement driver that should be a key part of every company’s strategy.

Identifying engagement drivers and effectively targeting them has been an ongoing struggle for many employers. We can make 2021 the year that changes. By following the tips above and incorporating the right systems and tools, you can hone in on the most important engagement drivers for your workforce, and significantly improve your employee experience. If you’re considering bringing in software tools to assist you in this process, we encourage you to check out Workrowd, the all-in-one platform for managing employee engagement and company culture across both on-site and remote workers. As you’re researching, don’t forget to check out the Global ERG Network as well, and feel free to reach out to us at any time to learn more or just to chat at

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