Human Capital Management Blog

Strategies for HCM Professionals

2016: Rethinking employee engagement


By Jayson Saba, VP of Strategy and Industry Relations at Ceridian.

A lot has been written about on the need to rethink engagement. The process of conducting an annual employee engagement survey, identifying drivers, prioritizing them, and action-planning need to be supplemented if not replaced by a better process focused on the employee.

I don’t expect the topic to fade until it becomes part of every company‘s fabric like fairness, equality, diversity, and inclusion. Trends in 2016 will revolve around the employee and how companies engage with him or her, while focusing on their development.

Focusing on team engagement

While much has been written about engagement revolving around the employee’s relationship with the company, not much has been discussed in the context of teams. Consider how many of us have left ‘best places to work’ because they didn’t feel part of the team or didn’t have a good relationship with their managers?

Conversely, how many people are currently working for awful or even failing companies because they love their teams and/or their managers? There isn’t a vacuum between an employee and the company. Individuals are part of a team, teams make up a business unit, and business units make up a company. And as we observe in the world of sports and our respective companies, having a team of high-performers doesn’t always necessarily equate to a high-performing team.

As we rethink engagement, companies will begin studying and understanding how individuals communicate with their managers, reports, and other teammates to build better relationships that ultimately drive higher performance and engagement.

Shift from performance management to performance development

For years now, we have been reading about the need for the annual performance appraisal to go away, and it may soon will. With that comes a certain degree of change management, which necessitates becoming employee-focused and not company focused.

Changing the status quo starts with changing the conversation. The word ‘management’ by definition is a top-down process. ‘Development’ on the other hand is about the employee. Companies will need to set goals that align to an employee development path. Conversations about performance will focus on the future and not on the past, which is what the traditional performance appraisal does.

Most importantly, compensation needs to be removed from the performance development conversation. While the annual performance appraisal won’t fall off the face of our planet, the process will continue to shift and some day in the next few years ‘performance management’ will leave our company’s lexicon just like we ditched the phrase ‘personnel management’ to describe human resources.

Hourly workers need engagement too

In December 2014, I predicted that 2015 will be the Year of the Employee, and in my opinion it has been. Conversations about engagement, culture, and development persisted. In my prediction, however, I called out the hourly employee. While it was discussed in the political and social arenas, this group didn’t get much love from the HR world.

To some extent, my prediction came true in the sense that government—especially at the state and local levels—have passed or proposed legislation about increasing minimum wage, compensating when employee schedules are changed abruptly, and mandating certain hours of rest between shifts to ensure work-life balance for employees in retail, hospitality, and other service industries.

The sooner companies understand and recognize the needs for these workers, the better off we will be. In 2016 we will see more of it. Likely, these conversations will fall under a larger umbrella of employee wellness, but they will happen nonetheless.

The engagement conversation is happening and has been for years now. I believe in 2016, a wider net will be cast to include more focus on teams, development, and the hourly worker. But the most exciting part of this is that we will see technology evolving to help companies change and adapt in a more meaningful way, where the tools available for employees, managers, and HR will support the new way we think about engagement.

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Jayson Saba

Jayson Saba is VP of Strategy and Industry Relations at Ceridian. Prior to Ceridian, Jayson was an analyst at Aberdeen Group’s Human Capital Management practice.  As the lead analyst for Core HR, Workforce Management, and Outsourcing, Jayson published over 100 research papers and reports about technology and best practices.  Jayson is a frequent contributor to industry and trade magazines including HR Executive, PayTech, HROToday, Workforce Management, Talent Management, CIO and The Economist. He regularly presents at HR conferences and trade shows.  Follow him on Twitter @JaysonSaba. 

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