Strengthening Employee Relationships In the Digital Era

According to Gallup, employees are disengaged at work — worldwide, only 13% of employees are engaged. This is an astonishing number, and even more so because so many of the new technology offerings targeted to enterprises focuses on employee collaboration, engagement, and advocacy. For this reason, I wanted to research what the state of employee engagement was, especially in light of these digital advances. Has it made a difference? What impact has digital employee engagement had on businesses – if any?

The result is our latest publication, “Strengthening Employee Relationships in the Digital Era: How Digital Employee Engagement AdvocacyTransform Organizations”. You can download the report here. Some of the key research findings include:

  • Most organizations don’t have a coherent employee engagement strategy — only 41% of organizations believe the have a holistic and strategic approach to employee engagement and advocacy.
  • Authentic employee engagement only happens when there is trust in the relationship — only 43% of survey respondents believe they have an organizational culture of trust and empowerment that supports employee engagement.
  • Part of the problem is that there is no natural owner of employee engagement. In 41% of organizations, HR leads employee engagement efforts, while 17% and 11% have Employee/Corporate Communications and Marketing leading efforts, respectively.
  • There remains significant untapped opportunity to use digital tools to enhance employee engagement. Only 36% and 25% of respondents have organizations where many employees use their internal collaboration platform and enterprise social network, respectively

Defining Employee Engagement

One of the biggest issues we encountered was simply defining employee engagement — the definition and hence the measure of engagement depended on where you sit in the organization. HR has a program to increase employee feedback, while Communications wants to make sure employees read the latest company news. Executives want to shake hands with employees in town hall meetings, while the Social team struggles to get them to participate on their enterprise social network. And Marketing is marching along with a social advocacy program to amplify the latest campaign — which runs afoul with security and compliance concerns in HR/IT/Legal. We found that there existed some type of friction or disconnect between these siloes in nearly every organization we interviewed, driven by the pursuit of these disparate goals.

To help align initiatives, we defined digital employee engagement into three areas: Internal Collaboration, Digital Empowerment, and Employee Advocacy.


Three Pillars of Digital Employee Engagement Strategy

We also developed three ways to drive a holistic, cohesive strategy across these three engagement areas. Very briefly, these pillars are the following:

  1. Create Alignment and Culture With a Vision of How Employee and Customer Relationships Intersect. We found that organizations like TD Bank take a strategic approach to employee engagement because they understand how it ties directly into how the company creates extraordinary customer experiences. This section of the report includes a short case study of how TD Bank is leverage all three types of employee engagement to drive business results.
  2. Map the Employee Journey. A new but growing practice within companies is to take a page out of the marketing playbook and to map the “employee journey,” going far beyond a transactional “HireTrain-Retain” framework to look at how relationships can be deepened to drive business results and organizational change. The purpose of this exercise is to look at employee engagement not as a specific state, but as a relationship that can be developed and influenced with specific programs, especially digital touchpoints.
  3. Measure and Develop Each Employee Relationship. Employee engagement is usually expressed as some sort of organization-wide number — average employee satisfaction, average employee engagement. The value of digital is that we can now see at the individual level — through an employee’s actions and their network quality — how their engagement is developing and hopefully deepening. By understanding where each employee is in their employee journey, managers can develop an “engagement plan” that meets each employee where they are.

The Transformational Power of Employee Engagement

But the most compelling finding of our research was the ability for employee engagement to drive transformational change at organizations. Our previous research on digital transformation and relationship economics highlighted the strategic importance of employees and the culture that they create.

One highlight was the need for CHROs and CMOs need to forge a tight bond for two reasons. Marketing needs the support of HR to activate employee engagement that results in delightful experiences for customers. At the same time, HR needs to take a page from Marketing’s playbook on how to use modern digital technologies to understand and engage with employees.

We also found that the proliferation of tools and the lack of integration make the selection and implementation of employee engagement platforms a particularly daunting problem, made worse by the fact that employee engagement technologies are bifurcated into internal- and external-facing platforms. We believe that an “Employee Engagement Cloud” will emerge, that ties together the many capabilities needed to deliver employee engagement at a truly enterprise level.

Let’s Stay Engaged

This report is just the beginning — and I would love to connect with you and hear your thoughts, challenges, and best practices around employee engagement. We’re all still learning here, and I’m confident that as we share together, we’ll deepen our knowledge together. And if you need help understanding, educating executives, or even developing a strategy around employee engagement, please let me know and I’ll see if we can help.


Additional Resources