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7 Employee Engagement Insights from 2020

2020 saw the rise of employee engagement as a key business objective. The global pandemic shifted workplace dynamics and heightened anxieties, which drove employees to become more concerned and engaged with workplace culture and benefit offerings. As of March 2020, employee engagement was the highest it had been in more than 12 years (68%).

Experts observed a similar uptick in workplace engagement following the wake of the 2008/2009 financial crisis. When large-scale economic or labor changes occur, employee engagement peaks as employers work to meet the unique challenges of their workforce. Unfortunately, following such engagement highs, experts say equal (and sometimes stronger) drops can occur. 

7 Employee Engagement Insights from 2020

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Understanding this cycle and current employee engagement trends allows businesses to plan more effectively and is the first step in taking a dynamic approach to employee engagement. This article will explore 7 engagement trends that are influencing how businesses build and support a long-term happy, productive, and engaged workforce.

1. Shift to a People-First Mentality

The pandemic has caused employee engagement to become a corporate responsibility and has highlighted the need for an employee-first approach to business. COVID-19 has introduced unprecedented levels of personal and professional anxiety. Many organizations have realized that challenges affecting employees on a human level deserve a human response. 

According to a study by McKinsey, employees agree that their organization has effectively responded to COVID-19 and appropriately addressed health and safety concerns. This is something employers need to pay attention to in addressing employee engagement. Compared to the respondents who were unhappy with their employer’s response, those who were happiest with response effectiveness were also four times more likely to be engaged and six times more likely to report positive wellbeing. 

1. Shift to a People-First Mentality


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Companies adopting a people-first approach should aim to create a culture of feedback where two-way communication is encouraged and available. As employee engagement trends evolve, fostering active feedback promotes continuous improvements to wellness and benefit offerings. This can result in a stronger work culture, higher productivity, retention, and engagement. 

2. Adoption of Cloud Technology

The cloud will continue to drive innovation forward, including as it relates to employee engagement. As of 2018, 75% of companies had at least one HR process in the cloud. By 2020, 72% of businesses had their core HR applications operating in the cloud

What is causing this mass adoption? HR leaders are reporting strong benefits from their cloud-based HR technologies with higher productivity, improved employee experience, and better work insights compared to on-premise solutions. 

2. Adoption of Cloud Technology

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Companies are finding that the cloud-based HR applications that return the highest ROI include administration, payroll, and sign in systems. Cloud-based talent management solutions still have room to grow, however, with only 37% of HR leaders saying their solution delivered the full benefits they needed. As businesses look to 2021 and beyond, they should automate processes with cloud-based technology wherever possible to engage with employees and provide a more seamless experience—while keeping an eye on new and emerging cloud technology. 

3. AI & Machine Learning to Support HR

AI and Machine Learning have been making HR tools more sophisticated and efficient. Many tech-forward companies are using AI and ML to conduct deep learning and automate mundane tasks to streamline workflows and improve employee engagement. ML is helping businesses use predictive patterns and smart APIs to scan and select top-quality prospects from large candidate pools and eliminate hiring bias. AI can process big data to provide helpful workforce analytics that HR departments can use to tailor resources and responses. Expect to see more emerging trends developing from the AI and ML space in 2021. 

4. Putting the 'Human' Back in Human Resources

Remote and hybrid workplaces have become standard due to COVID-19. The increase in distributed teams has led to greater adoption of digital solutions and an acceleration of digital transformation. As businesses look to foster employee engagement in 2021 and beyond, they must leverage digital solutions without forgetting to prioritize the human part of HR. Finding tools that automate repetitive processes is a great way to free up time for HR teams to focus on recognition and value-based initiatives, for example. 

A visitor management system, for example, allows businesses to automate their front desk operations while making human connection a priority. Employees and visitors can safely sign themselves in through a contactless sign-in and be guided to electronic forms, NDAs, or waiting instructions. This process frees up valuable time for front desk staff to focus on answering questions and creating a welcoming environment for employees and guests. 

4. Putting the "Human" Back in Human Resources

5. Removing Bias

Diversity and inclusion are imperative in our global environment and should be a focus for businesses now and moving forward. Recruiting teams have to make an active shift towards creating more diverse candidate pools and removing unconscious bias from hiring and talent development. Social comparison bias, confirmatory bias, and similar-to-me bias can unknowingly have harmful effects on individuals and employee engagement. In 2021, expect to see deeper conversations about removing bias from the workplace through educating HR leaders, updating hiring practices to remove unconscious bias, and incorporating AI-solutions.  

6. Employee Wellness Programs

Wellness programs have grown in popularity as businesses respond to growing levels of anxiety and uncertainty in their workforces. Prioritizing employee mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing through corporate wellness programs is critical during these unprecedented times. The pandemic has had a significant negative impact on mental health including causing anxiety, depression, feelings of isolation, physical health issues, economic uncertainty, fear over the health of loved ones, and more. Implementing an all-in-one wellness program is essential to address the full spectrum of health needs facing employees in today’s climate.

7. Maintaining Safe and Secure Workplaces

As more businesses see their employees returning to the office next year, creating a safe and secure workplace should be a top priority. Employees can still have reservations about returning to an in-office workspace, which can have damaging effects on employee engagement if not handled well. 

Employers can implement the following measures for a safe office reopen while taking an employee-first approach:

  1. Create a detailed reopening plan 
  2. Determine who comes back to work when and create a staggered start schedule
  3. Address employee concerns with transparent communication 
  4. Evaluate screening and contact tracing measures for employees and guests 
  5. Implement safety precautions (disinfect surfaces, promote good hygiene, create walk routes)
  6. Replace high-touch processes with touchless technologies
  7. Use this as an opportunity to learn and grow

Employee engagement is an ever-evolving need and requires a dynamic approach from employers. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has made companies more aware of the importance of employee engagement. Organizations that make engagement a priority by following the guidelines outlined above can expect to see a positive impact on their employees’ happiness and productivity, and as a result, the bottom line. 

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Paul Hansen

Paul is our Chief Marketing Officer at SwipedOn.