Top Employee Engagement Challenges for 2022 (and what do about them)

Top Employee Engagement Challenges for 2022 (and what do about them) 1080 608 Jason Lauritsen

A few weeks ago, I fielded a survey to inquire about the biggest employee engagement challenges for 2022. If you were one of those who took the time to respond, thank you.  

Selfishly, I created this survey because I wanted to check in and get an understanding of what people are anticipating as they head into the new year. There are a lot of likely challenges ahead of us and I wanted to hear what was top of mind for you. 

In a moment, I’ll outline the highlights from the responses. Before I do, a caveat or two. 

Please understand that this survey represents both a small sample size (just under 200 responses) and is a qualitative analysis of open-ended survey responses. So while I suspect that you will recognize many of these challenges as some of your own, I’m sure there are other significant challenges that this survey didn’t capture. 

My goal in today’s post is simply to share the general themes that emerged in this data and then suggest a few things you may want to be thinking about as we head into next year.

Survey says…

Here are the four most common challenges noted in the survey responses.  

1. Supporting shifting and flexible work arrangements (hybrid, WFH, etc.).

Many are still wrestling with how to equip their organization for a move to hybrid or remote-first work arrangements. Others are concerned about plans to return employees to the office given the wide range of employee opinions about where they want to work. 

Another side of this challenge that was mentioned is navigating the complexities and tension that exists when your workforce includes both employees who are working from home and those who are required to work onsite due to their specific job.

2. Keeping employees feeling connected to each other and the organization. 

This has been a common concern I’ve heard since the beginning of the pandemic. Particularly for those who are supporting a largely work-from-home employee base, the concern is that people don’t feel socially connected to others at work. 

The lack of ability to bring people together in-person was cited frequently as a cause of this concern. There was also a sense that the ability to connect was both contributing to and being caused by people being short on time, carrying a heavy workload, and burning out. 

3. Burnout

Another key concern noted was employee and manager burnout. In many of these comments, the implication is that the burnout is being caused by extended periods of heavy workload. 

Burnout is pervasive. Even many of those responding to the survey seemed to hint that they too may be struggling with it for the same reasons as everyone else. It’s clearly a big problem.

4. Pay

While some have argued over the years that pay is not an employee engagement issue, a significant number of those responding felt it may be an issue in the upcoming year. You’ll hear more about pay again in a moment. 

What’s driving turnover today

One question in the survey asked about the main reasons employees were leaving their organization today. As you’ll notice, the issues are similar albeit they showed up in a different order based on how commonly they were cited.

1. Pay

It probably shouldn’t be surprising that the main reason cited for current employee turnover is better pay elsewhere. We would probably have heard the same two years ago. The only thing I will note is that a few of the respondents who clearly support hourly front line employees shared that pay competition has definitely increased recently. 

2. Burnout and workload

Overworked and understaffed conditions seem prevalent. And it appears that these employees have just hit the end of their rope and decided they’ve had enough. 

3. Return to the office

A significant number of responses suggested they were losing people who were opting out of returning to the office in favor of finding a job that allowed more flexibility. Interestingly, there were also some responses suggesting that they were experiencing the opposite as well–employees who really wanted to return to working in an office because WFM wasn’t working for them.  

Are Managers and Leaders Ready for 2022?

The final thing the survey explored was the degree to which managers and leaders were ready to meet the challenges coming in the new year.  

The sentiments were mixed. Only about 5% felt that their managers are fully ready. Most had far less confidence. Nearly half of the respondents rated their managers as “barely ready” or “not ready at all.” 

When asked where managers needed the most development, a common theme emerged. Managers were viewed as having skill in managing processes, but there are significant gaps when it comes to managing people. 

These people management skill gaps include things like communication, appreciation, trust-building, and emotional intelligence. 

Some respondents speculated that perhaps the reason managers aren’t as focused on their people is that they too are burnt out and struggling to keep up with workload.  

In addition to these issues, there is also significant concern about managers being equipped to manage people in a hybrid environment with remote and work from home employees. 

What does this mean for 2022?

Given the current trends we are seeing around the world with virus mutations and vaccination rates, it’s probably wise to assume that 2022 may look a lot like 2021. As I wrote about earlier this year, part of what’s exhausting us right now is that we are clinging to the hope that a finish line to this pandemic is just around the corner. It’s not.  

In fact, the best thing we can do is accept that there is no finish line and embrace the uncertain and dynamic nature of the future. Once we let go of the finish line, it changes our entire perspective on this work. 

With that in mind and based on the themes that arose in the survey, here are a few things you may want to consider as you head into 2022.

1. Prioritize well-being.

Of all the challenges that surfaced, the most concerning is the prevalence of burnout. Burnout is an important issue, but it’s also the canary in the coal mine of deteriorating mental health at work. We can see and feel burnout in others. Depression, anxiety and other mental health issues are much easier to miss. A crisis of mental health is growing whether we can see it or not. 

The coming year is going to be stressful and full of uncertainty. Knowing that, we need to really get focused on supporting people’s individual well-being. This starts with you. 

As someone who carries the responsibility of shaping the employee experience of others, if you are not actively caring for your own well-being, you are operating on diminished capacity. Plus, it’s hard to do for others what you will not do for yourself. 

If people are struggling with mental, physical, emotional, or financial well-being, very little else you do next year will have much impact. Well-being has to come first.

2. Focus on enabling performance, not mandating how and where people work. 

Too many organizations are wrapped up in making definitive judgments about when and how they might be coming back to the office. Given that things are still unfolding and changing, this isn’t productive

Instead, 2022 should be a year of really digging in to get a deeper understanding of what your employees need to do their best work. This isn’t easy but it’s the right work. It requires gathering a lot of feedback and perspective about employee’s attitudes, experience, and perceptions. 

It also requires replacing hunches and assumptions with data on important questions. For example, how much does face to face collaboration drive performance in your organization? Or, why do employees seem to prefer working from home over coming into the office? 

Make 2022 about being relentlessly curious. Find ways to measure and design experiments to explore these questions and find real insights grounded in data and research.

As you get a better understanding of employee needs and what enables the best work to happen within your team or organization, design systems and processes to support that.

3. Play big and focus on what really matters.

We exist in a moment in time when the workplace is facing a reckoning. For decades, we’ve been muddling along with practices and policies that were designed for an industrial era of work that looks nothing like today. But we have lacked the motivation or courage to leave them behind. 

Then COVID showed up.

Today, we have what might be a once in a lifetime opportunity to completely reshape and reimagine work. We have been wholly disrupted and that has created an opportunity for systemic change. But, we must seize this opportunity now.

As you consider your work in 2022, what are the most important issues that need to be addressed to create a work experience that values employees and helps them thrive not just at work but also as humans?  This is where your energy should be focused.

The results of this survey reflected a lot of concerns about pay. Front-line hourly workers have been underpaid for decades. Pay equity remains an issue. And, now people are voting with their feet. 

What are you going to do about it?

Managers and leaders were underskilled before work changed. They too are burning out due to the immense pressure on them. 

How are you going to support them?

Now is not the time to aim at small progress. It is the time for bold action. 

It’s a time for throwing out the policy manual and starting from scratch. It’s a time to rethink everything about how people get managed, rewarded, and paid. 

It’s a time to question everything.  

The Time is Now

You might be thinking “my organization isn’t going to do anything about pay. They won’t even talk about it.” Or, “we’ve suggested management training, but our leaders are in denial that there’s a problem even as people are leaving.”

If so, here’s my question to you. Is this really where you want to invest your time and talent? 

Now is a good time to ask yourself some important questions. 

  • Do you believe that work can and should be a fulfilling and rewarding experience for people? 
  • Do you believe that it’s possible to create an experience of work that both drives performance for the organization and is enriching for the employee? 
  • Do you believe that a good business is one that can thrive and profit while also paying people at least a living wage? 

If you are like me, you answered each of these questions “Yes!” If so, then it may be time for you to move on. You deserve to work someplace that aligns with your beliefs and vision about what work should be. 

There are countless organizations today who have realized that they need to reinvent work at their organization. And they need people like you to help lead them there.

The same issues that are driving retention concerns about all of your employees are true for you as well. There have never been more opportunities available to talented, motivated people then there are today. 

Choose to do work that really matters. And if it’s time to move, get on with it.  

Seize the opportunity to shape the future of work. Play big at your organization. Raise the conversations that matter and do the work that will truly make an impact. 

The time for change is here. 

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