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Employee engagement: challenges that digitalisation cannot take up

Engagement des collaborateurs ces défis que la digitalisation ne pourra pas relever

It seems that digitalisation divides the HR world in two: on one side the ultra-optimists see the digital revolution as a solution to the major HR issues (improving recruitment, permanent tracking, instant engagement metrics, instant way of mapping skills pools, managing internal knowledge networks, etc.). On the other side are the pessimists, who not only see the 4th industrial revolution as endangering a large number of jobs across many sectors, but also negating the very essence of what constitutes a company.  In digitalising, we run the risk of forgetting our culture, our values, the engagement of our employees, the inspiration driving the management team and our contribution to a shared, sustainable world.

We clearly fall into this second category. For 15 years, we have been monitoring employee engagement in companies of all sizes and across every sector. Over thousands of 360° feedback, we have also learned to identify the key characteristics of inspirational managers, those people we would follow, even under very difficult conditions. These years of experience make us doubt that the digital world can fulfil all its promises.*

There are 4 dangerous trends that we have observed in the corporate world are affecting employee engagement levels. 

  • Middle Management are gradually losing a sense of engagement, as they feel trapped between conflicting interests (of senior management and staff). Too often we see that the engagement of these managers is at the same level or even lower than that of their staff.  Yet, engagement is energy. If it is missing, change management projects will be more difficult to achieve because those who have to carry them through no longer have the necessary energy or interest.  Digitalisation will not make any significant impact on this problem and may even make it worse if we transform our managers into Chief Tracking Officers.
  • Management talk is no longer convincing and   employees are losing confidence in their superiors (on average 6.8 on a scale of 10). Their words are failing to build buy-in because they talk of a future success that employees know they will see little of, and also because very often senior management is incapable of inspiring and creating excitement. Only accountants, financial analysts and shareholders dream about reams of figures.
  • Companies are becoming increasingly complex and this creates major organisational dysfunctions. The lack of collaboration has become a critical issue because major change management projects are by nature interdisciplinary.  Here again, digitalisation does not have a very positive impact. Quite the reverse: it may speed up cycles and put more pressure on companies and their teams.
  • Management styles have yet to adapt sufficiently to complexity, the unknown, new generations and the challenges of digitalisation. 40% of managers are perceived as not being innovative enough by their teams, while one manager in two fails to do enough to develop their teams’ talents. Line managers still remain one of the key factors conditioning employee engagement, but this has changed over the last five years: employees expect their managers to listen more and be more empathic, to be bolder and more assertive, to build closer ties with them and inject more meaning into their work. We believe meaning is still the most important factor in engagement.  Without this, there is neither resilience nor passion, and it is impossible to share success or experience. Once again, digitalisation solves nothing.

The algorithm has yet to kill me!

Our latest engagement studies clearly show that it is companies that manage to inject meaning and change empathically, taking their employees into consideration, and it is companies that focus on basics, keeping it simple and promising a future to the most engaged employees that succeed.   Quite simply, it is those who are the best prepared for the digital revolution because paradoxically, these are the companies who retain and develop their human capital. They continue to support their HR programmes with new technologies, but don’t replace them.

The futuristic total digital illusions will have to come face to face with the reality of companies made of Men and Women whose engagement is crucial for their success.  By remaining vigilant and without making concessions on engagement basics such as creating meaning, focussing on growth prospects, companies can profit from this fourth industrial revolution.

*Read ‘The fourth industrial revolution: how can we prepare for it? 4 HR keys for success’ White Paper No. 1, Qualintra.

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