Jerry Edmondson: Take employee engagement off your to-do list

Jerry Edmondson

Given the economic climate and levels of uncertainty around Brexit, improving employee engagement is set to be a key item on most organisations’ HR agendas for 2018. By increasing engagement, it can make it easier to retain expert and experienced employees and improve workforce efficiencies.

But, while the economic and political climate may have changed, engagement is something that appears on the to-do list year after year. Rather than see it make a reappearance in another 12 months, finding ways to turn this objective into action that delivers solid results is essential.

Develop a strategy
Improving engagement is certainly something employers want to do. Research conducted by Aon Employee Benefits, The benefits and trends survey, published in January 2018, found that 99% of the HR professionals surveyed thought it was important to increase employees’ understanding and engagement with their benefits and retirement savings.

But, while the desire is there, it is not always followed up as effectively as it should be. For instance, the research found that only around a quarter (27%) of businesses had an employee value proposition, with a further 16% planning to introduce one. The remaining 57% either did not know or had no plans to introduce one.

It is easy to see why this gets overlooked. In today’s high-pressured work environment, taking time out to formalise a strategy can seem impossible. But focusing on the bigger picture can save time in the longer run. By having a connected and integrated engagement strategy, communications will be more powerful and help employers deliver effectively on these individual projects as well as on overarching strategy.

Taking just half a day to sit down and focus on the bigger picture could pay dividends. To make this process as structured as possible, it may be worth accessing a strategic framework. This is something a benefits consultant can provide and it will help employers and their organisations clarify engagement objectives, enabling them to design, develop and deliver a communications programme that achieves measurable results.

Failed communications
As well as implementing an integrated engagement strategy, it is also important for employers to consider the way in which they communicate with employees. Chances are they are probably using many of the same methods they have used for years

While this might work for some employees, the problem is that the way we engage with content has changed significantly. A nice shiny brochure and 48-page handbook might suit your parents, but you may find your children use it to prop up their smartphone so they can watch a video on YouTube or check out someone’s story on Snapchat.

If employers still in the world of brochures and websites, they should not worry, they are not alone. Our survey found that although 32% of organisations see new communication technology, such as augmented reality, playing a part in employee engagement in 2018, more than half are not sure or do not know enough about these technologies to form an opinion.

It is not surprising. When it comes to adopting new communication technology, the employee benefits world has typically lagged between three and five years behind the marketing and advertising sectors.

But, every new generation entering the workforce brings evolved expectations of how they want to be communicated with, formed by their experiences outside employment. They are used to the way their favourite consumer brands communicate with them and they increasingly expect the same in the workplace.

Embrace new communication technologies
Although the employee benefits world might not be at the leading edge when it comes to these new technologies, there are signs we’re catching up. New communication technologies are emerging that can transform the way we engage with employees.

Take the humble pension statement. Rather than a paper or PDF report, some organisations now deliver personalised motion animated graphics to their employees’ smartphones. It is their own personal data, presented to them in an exciting way and in a format they may already use outside of work.

Augmented reality is also starting to be used in employee benefits. Just like the Pokémon Go game that dominated the summer of 2016, apps are available that can let employees point their phone at triggers to access personalised information about their benefits.

User-generated content is becoming more common too, as more organisations introduce enterprise-wide social media platforms like Workplace, the corporate equivalent of Facebook. As well as creating employee content around the benefits package, this can be effective for team building, bonding and innovation; all of which deliver on engagement.

And the future is even more exciting. Artificial intelligence chat-bots are beginning to be used to answer routine HR queries and virtual reality could start playing a part in delivering education around the benefits package.

There is also plenty of support available to help employers benefit from these new communication technologies. Employee benefits consultants can provide advice on which may be most suitable for an organisation, and support their implementation.

By taking the time to develop an integrated engagement strategy and overhaul the way an employer communicates with employees, 2018 could be the year organisations achieve their employee engagement goals.

Jerry Edmonson is strategic communications and engagement proposition leader at Aon Employee Benefits