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How engagement between employers and employees has changed

Covid-19 meant that many employers had to change how they operated. Indeed, many employers are still grappling with agile working and, in particular, getting colleagues back into the office. But this wasn’t the only change.

Colleague health and wellbeing leapfrogged to the top of HRDs people agenda, as a result of which the way in which employers engage with colleagues has changed. Gone are the formal sit-down one-to-ones every month or so.

Instead, managers have more informal more frequent touchpoints with colleagues, such as WhatsApp groups, virtual catch-ups, as well as the more traditional in person catch-ups. These more frequent catch-ups encourage more informal dialogue and will help deal with issues in a timelier way.

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Arguably, with video calls the norm, leaders are now more visible than before. The workplace has been democratised; everyone on screen is the same size and nobody sits at the top of the table.

Maintaining individual connections, however, requires time – a regular catch-up call with small groups or individuals that allows managers to hear directly from their staff.

There is a much bigger responsibility to go out there and talk to colleagues, especially if you have people working from home permanently. You need a different style of management now, which is more informal, more engaging and proactively helps colleagues.

Now, more than ever before, employee engagement requires a more nuanced approach that takes into account individual needs and personalities.

Colleagues want to feel that engagement with their employers, either in person or on screen, is honest and authentic. Employers must be prepared to listen to the needs of colleagues and adapt accordingly.

Maintaining connections and a sense of open dialogue also plays a positive role in allowing colleagues to be themselves. It can allow things such as mental wellbeing, issues around diversity, gender and the menopause to be expressed.

The expectation is that companies will create safe spaces for colleagues to have these conversations and that the company will have up-to-date policies in place to offer support.

The culture and values displayed and promoted by the employer will be a very important way of attracting and retaining employees, particularly with demand outstripping supply. These values should be clear and transparent and reflected in day-to-day practice from board level downwards.

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria are an increasingly important way of showing that an employer has values which it believes are important. In the modern world we live in, with challenges such as climate changes and a societal push towards greater equality and diversity, employers are expected to drive change and have a sustainable business strategy.

For many, an employer having an ESG strategy in place will be a must-have; people want to work for an organisation that shares their values.

Finally, the importance of employee engagement can't be underestimated. A huge part of becoming an organisation where people want to work is engaging with your employees.

You need to keep talking to colleagues about their experiences, what is important to them, what their challenges are and how you can best support them. By listening to what they say, employers will gain an understanding of what works, not only for their colleagues, but for their organisation as a whole.

Investing the time to get things right will reap the reward of staff loyalty and deliver a strong message that the employer is committed, and adheres, to values which will make it attractive to both existing and prospective employees.

Rebecca McGuirk is partner at Trowers & Hamlins