Article: Caught in the Great Gloom: How leaders can win back disengaged employees in 2024

Employee Engagement

Caught in the Great Gloom: How leaders can win back disengaged employees in 2024

Exploring the elements that contribute to a decline in workplace comfort and delving into strategies to overcome employee disengagement, Antoni Lacinai and Chee Gay Lim shed light on how leaders can reclaim the loyalty of disengaged employees in 2024.
Caught in the Great Gloom: How leaders can win back disengaged employees in 2024

Amidst the tempest of business uncertainties, a question echoes through the corridors of leadership: how can organisations weather the storm of talent challenges in the dynamic landscape of Asia?

With nearly six in ten leaders anticipating stable or high growth for their firms despite economic hurdles, Mercer’s Global Talent Trends (GTT) Study 2023 unveils a sobering reality. A significant 54% of businesses in the region foresee difficulties in meeting demand with existing talent frameworks, grappling with high staff turnover, a surge in quiet quitting, and the persistent struggle to secure the right talent at the right price and pace. But amidst these challenges lies a deeper enigma: despite an apparent rise in employee engagement in Southeast Asia, what lurks beneath the surface?

A report from Gallup showcased an uptick in employee engagement in Southeast Asia, highlighting a promising sign for employers in the region, but a deeper dive into the data from the State of the Global Workplace 2023 Report unveils a more nuanced reality. Despite the increase in overall engagement, the prevalence of quiet quitters — employees who merely occupy their seats, disengaged and disconnected from their work — has surged, now standing at a nine percentage points higher than the global average. On the other hand, 6% of employees fall into the category of loud quitters, actively disengaged and detrimental to organisational goals and leadership efforts.

This pervasive disengagement among Southeast Asia's workforce not only poses a threat to productivity but also serves as a harbinger of heightened turnover rates, as evidenced by the 22-point increase in the percentage of workers feeling optimistic about finding new job opportunities in their area, as reported in the 2023 survey.

Amidst these challenges, the imperative for leaders to address the looming decline in Employee Experience (EX) becomes undeniably clear. In a recent People Matters Big Questions session, workplace communication expert Antoni Lacinai and Chee Gay Lim, Group Chief Human Resources Officer and Executive Vice President Human Resources at TDCX, convened to deliberate on the impending downturn of EX in Southeast Asia and the actionable strategies leaders can employ to navigate this turbulent terrain. 

As the region braces for a potential EX downturn in 2024, the insights gleaned from this discussion offer a beacon of hope and a roadmap for revitalising employee engagement and satisfaction in the face of adversity.

Factors contributing to declining workplace comfort

In early 2021, over 40% of employees contemplated leaving their jobs, and as the year progressed, an unprecedented number of workers resigned. This prompts the question: why is the workplace becoming less comfortable for people? Companies are bending over backward to empower and challenge their employees, yet anxiety looms over the concerning state of engagement, considering the potential loss in value.

Various strategies are being implemented, potentially affecting employee comfort levels. Trust emerges as a central theme in this discussion. A noticeable trend is the push for employees to return to the office full-time, a move that may not suit everyone's preferences or needs.

"This disparity poses a challenge in fostering a comfortable work environment," notes the Workplace Communication Expert and Author. Additionally, some companies restrict the use of AI tools, intending to enhance employee experience, but inadvertently hindering progress.

Echoing this sentiment, the Group Chief Human Resources Officer at TDCX emphasises their rigorous monitoring of metrics like Employee Experience (EX) scores. "Through our observations, we've identified several factors contributing to declining workplace comfort," he shares:

  • Firstly, employee expectations significantly shape their perception of the workplace. External factors like market sentiment also influence satisfaction levels.
  • Secondly, inconsistencies in employee experiences across various touchpoints, from talent acquisition to retention practices, must be addressed for a cohesive experience.
  • Moreover, the increasing reliance on digitisation and automation presents challenges in delivering personalised experiences, impacting workplace comfort.
  • Finally, the rise of remote and hybrid work models alters workplace dynamics, potentially reducing human connection. Recognising and addressing these shifts is crucial in restoring workplace comfort.

Addressing the impact of Generative AI in the workplace

The divide between employers and employees regarding the impact of generative AI in the workplace is causing a lack of trust and hampering the technology's potential benefits, states a recent report from Accenture. Drawing insights from data collected from over 7,000 C-suite leaders and 5,000 employees across 19 countries, the report highlights several key findings.

According to the report, 58% of employees express concerns about generative AI's effects on job security. Furthermore, there's a notable disparity between employees and C-suite executives regarding how generative AI will impact well-being. While 60% of employees anticipate increased stress and burnout due to AI, only 37% of leaders share this concern. These divergent perspectives contribute to employees' scepticism about their organisations' ability to ensure positive outcomes when implementing generative AI, the report suggests.

In recent months, HR strategies have increasingly cantered around leveraging AI to tailor experiences for employees and customers. Antoni Lacinai emphasises the significant role of technology in shaping experiences across various industries. “While embracing digitalisation is crucial, maintaining a balance and valuing analogue communication are equally important”, he notes.

Highlighting potential challenges of technology implementation, Lacinai points to instances where professionals in healthcare, education, and law enforcement are overwhelmed by administrative tasks, detracting from their core responsibilities. “Similarly, in corporate settings, the adoption of new systems doesn't always yield desired outcomes, underscoring the complexities of digitalisation's impact,” he said. 

Chee Gay Lim emphasises the importance of acknowledging the limitations of AI and focusing on key priorities when addressing trust issues with new technology. He outlines three essential priorities for HR professionals:

  • Ensuring systems are user-friendly for both customers and employees, prioritising streamlined processes and fostering a sense of value among all stakeholders.
  • Continuously improving processes based on feedback from customers and employees to enhance service quality and satisfaction.
  • Leveraging AI and other tech tools to enhance efficiency while ensuring they are deployed in ways that genuinely benefit people and avoid unnecessary complications.

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Maximising the impact of onboarding: Key strategies for success

Effective onboarding builds a strong foundation for the relationship between employers and employees. It boosts engagement, lowers turnover rates, and contributes to business growth. Conversely, inadequate onboarding processes can lead to negative outcomes for both parties involved. Shockingly, many employers neglect to plan and execute a robust onboarding program. According to O.C. Tanner's 2023 Global Culture Report, only 43 per cent of surveyed employees experienced an onboarding process lasting more than a single-day orientation and a benefits information packet.

Chee Gay stresses the importance of enhancing the onboarding process, emphasising its pivotal role in integrating new employees into company culture. “The initial days and weeks profoundly impact employee retention, especially the critical first 90 days. Therefore, organisations must prioritise a thorough onboarding approach to ensure that new hires feel valued and ready to contribute effectively from day one,” he said and further shared: 

Key to successful onboarding is providing tailored guidance to address each new employee's needs. Assigning a dedicated onboarding expert who can offer personalised support and address queries is essential for facilitating a smooth transition.

Additionally, a positive onboarding experience hinges on aligning cultural values and expectations from the start. Integrating newcomers into the company's culture, work processes, and team dynamics is essential. Implementing a buddy system, where experienced employees mentor new hires, greatly enhances the onboarding experience and accelerates cultural assimilation.

Furthermore, leadership involvement is crucial in communicating the organization's vision, values, and expectations to new employees. Leaders should actively engage with new joiners, providing encouragement and demonstrating commitment to their success. Continuous motivation and support throughout the onboarding journey are equally important.

Equally vital is providing new employees with the necessary resources, tools, and information for job performance. Ensuring that people managers actively share job-related insights and responsibilities further fosters a sense of belonging and commitment among new hires.

Fostering collective ownership: Beyond CEO dictates and HR duties

Back in time, company culture was often dictated from the top-down, with the CEO's vision being translated into glossy mission statements and core values by the HR department. However, times have changed. Nowadays, building a strong company culture isn't just the CEO's or HR department's job—it's a collective effort that involves everyone, from the highest levels of leadership to the everyday employees.

"While HR plays a crucial role in driving initiatives related to employee experience, it's important to understand that ultimate accountability rests with leadership at all levels. Leadership sets the tone for the organisation's culture and values, and if initiatives related to employee experience falter, it reflects on the effectiveness of leadership," explained Lacinai.

Every person within the organisation, regardless of their position or department, contributes to the overall employee experience. Whether it's a production manager showing care for their team or colleagues fostering a positive work environment, everyone's actions impact employee satisfaction and engagement.

Additionally, measuring employee experience is essential for evaluating organisational efforts and overall performance. However, achieving a positive employee experience requires collaboration and collective responsibility across the organisation.

"For HR professionals, collaborating with leadership and various departments to enhance employee experience is crucial. This involves promoting continuous improvement, fostering open communication, and providing resources to support employee well-being. Recognising that employee experience is a shared responsibility enables organizations to create a workplace environment that promotes engagement, productivity, and success," emphasised Group Chief Human Resources Officer and Executive Vice President Human Resources, TDCX.

Measuring employee experience: Key metrics and insights

A comprehensive approach to measuring employee experience involves assessing various aspects that contribute to overall satisfaction and engagement. One effective method is to consider key factors such as empowerment, belonging, and competence. These elements provide insights into how employees perceive their level of influence over their work, their sense of connection to the organisation, and their opportunities for growth and development, suggested Antoni Lacinai. 

“Additionally, adopting a simplified survey approach, similar to customer service surveys, can yield valuable insights into employee experience. Asking straightforward questions like ‘How likely are you to recommend this workplace to a friend?’ can provide a quick gauge of overall satisfaction and engagement. Following up with open-ended questions to understand the reasoning behind their responses can further elucidate areas for improvement.

Furthermore, it's essential to delve into the psychological aspects of employee experience, particularly focusing on the concept of psychological safety. This involves creating an environment where employees feel safe to voice their opinions, take risks, and learn from mistakes without fear of reprisal. A culture of psychological safety fosters creativity, productivity, and overall well-being among employees,” he added. 

Ultimately, the goal is to identify areas where the organization excels in promoting positive employee experience and areas where improvements are needed. By incorporating metrics that assess empowerment, belonging, competence, and psychological safety, HR professionals can gain valuable insights into the overall health of the organisation's culture and identify opportunities for enhancement.

To learn more from leaders about some of the burning questions in today’s world of work, stay tuned to People Matters' Big Question series on LinkedIn.

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Topics: Employee Engagement, #BigQuestions, #Outlook2024, #HRTech, #HRCommunity

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