6 Employee Engagement Drivers to look out for in 2021

By Anna Thompson, 3 March 2021 | 8 mins read

“How can I truly engage my workforce?”

That’s the million-dollar question on every business leader’s mind. Over the years, employee engagement surveys have repeatedly shown that engaged employees are more productive, more committed to their roles, and more likely to stay with a company long term. Happy and engaged staff equal a happy and productive company. Simple stuff, huh? Well yes and no. Knowing what the important engagement drivers are is one thing, but implementing them in a truly authentic way is another. And that’s before you even factor in 2020, the year that turned everything on its head and changed workplaces and the employee experience forever…

The year-like-no-other, as it shall forever be known, presented leaders with a whole set of challenges. With working-from-home the new reality for many businesses, how would the key engagement drivers of meaningful work, leadership engagement, career development opportunities and a happy work-life balance hold up?

So, when we look at 2021, and the optimists among us speak of life “post-pandemic”, it’s worth revisiting those things that spur on employee motivation and diving into what they look like in a digital-first working world. Read on to discover our predictions of the key employee engagement drivers this year, and how you can make them work for your business.


Perhaps unsurprising following a year when we spent a lot of time isolated from one another, “belonging” will be a key employee engagement buzzword in 2021. We are, by nature, social creatures and we like to feel part of a team, but inevitably with the mass switch to working-from-home, this culture has suffered. An employee survey by Gartner found that 41% of respondents don’t feel connected to colleagues when working remotely.

“Organizations have been very pragmatic and have done well adapting to the new normal from a technology standpoint,” said James Atkinson, vice president in the Gartner HR practice.  But of course, a Skype call will never replace the emotional connection of an in-person meeting. Thus “managers need to step in and help their employees build social and emotional connections to ensure individuals feel connected to their colleagues and the organisations, and to help teams continue to work together seamlessly.”

Top tips to strengthen employees’ sense of belonging:

  • Ensure employees have regular meetings scheduled with their managers where they can acquire feedback on their performance…
  • …don’t forget though, it’s a two-way street. Ask employees for their feedback on the company and be sure to follow up with actionable responses to their concerns
  • Social events are a great way for colleagues to strengthen their bonds with one another and increase employee morale. A weekly pub lunch is always a winner.

Pride in the company

Last year was a tumultuous year for society, beyond just the pandemic. The Black Lives Matter movement opened difficult conversations about racism and discrimination. Employees desire to work for organizations whose values align with their own is growing, with research by Gartner finding that 74% of employees expect their employer to become more “actively involved” in the cultural debates of the day and take steps to show they support important causes.

However, it’s not just as simple as issuing a corporate statement. It’s a case of “actions speak louder than words”; employees want to see their employers take proactive steps – changing to more ethical suppliers or giving them time off to volunteer, for example. When an organisation does act on the social issues of the day, the number of respondents considered to be “highly engaged employees” rose from 40% to 60%, having subsequent effects on employee retention and loyalty.

Top tips to boost employees’ pride in your company:

  • Set up a dedicated group staffed by employees to gather feedback from their colleagues about issues that matter to them.
  • Use the feedback to implement company commitments to support certain causes, whether that means pledging money to a charity or allowing employees time off to volunteer.
  • Make clear to your staff the company’s policy on workplace diversity.


In the last couple of years, mental health has become an important issue in society, but the pandemic and subsequent disruption to normal life has emphasized the value of self-care further.

It’s about a healthy work life balance, and to this end employers should take some of the responsibility of protecting their employees’ wellbeing in the workplace. This really comes down to the company culture; treating people as individuals rather than numbers. Getting this right is an investment that will pay off: employers who support their employees more holistically realize a 21% increase in high performers.

Top tips to boost employees’ wellbeing:

  • Managers should regularly check in with employees. An informal coffee morning or one-to-one lunch every now and then to problem-solve any issues will ensure the employee feels supported.
  • Offer flexible working hours to support those with a lot on their plate – like employees juggling childcare. This will pay off as they’ll be less stressed and more productive when they are working.
  • Exercise is a key driver of positive mental health. Subsidizing employees’ gym memberships or subscriptions to a fitness app is a small – but valuable – gesture.


The shift to digital working has been a struggle for many business leaders. Will my employees be as effective working from home? Can they be trusted to perform without constant supervision?

The forced lockdown and the resulting move of so-called ‘knowledge workers’ from high rise offices to home spare bedrooms was a forced experiment in employee independence. Interestingly, instead of a slackening of efforts, studies like those from Harvard Business Review found that during lockdown, employees spent 12% less time in meetings and 9% more time on crucial work; with a marked impact on the satisfaction brought about by these tasks.

The idea of self-governance and empowerment is not a new one, but one of the key drivers that now tops the agenda for executives, and is a fait accompli for those in a remote work environment. Luckily, independence and autonomy over their workloads and schedules is a key employee engagement driver, so those companies that focus on getting it right, will see the results in their employee’s motivation and in job satisfaction surveys.

Top tips to enable employee autonomy:

  • Allow ownership by allocating projects to those hungry for them, and giving them a stretch assignment (if they’re keen of course)
  • Invest in the basic tools they need to function solo – whether that’s online learning for new skills, office supplies or even the software that they require to be self-sufficient
  • Reconsider any of your time-tracking practices, and focus instead on trust when it comes to working hours.


Companies like DHL, and their world-leading employee engagement programs, know the importance of recognising and rewarding their people. More than just a regular pay check, being shown appreciation is near the top of every employee’s wish list; just like your friends or significant other might need words of affirmation as their love language.

In the words of Dale Carnegie, the senior leadership training guru of our times, “people work for money but go the extra mile for recognition, praise and rewards.”

Now that big flashy recognition ceremonies are a thing of the not-so-distant past, and you can’t just gather everyone in the boardroom to thank them for their efforts, 2021 is all about virtual recognition to create an engaged work force.

Top tips to recognise your people:

  • Invest in an employee newsletter or, if you have one already, set aside a section to share the achievements of those going the extra mile
  • Look at virtual options for recognition – online ways for employees to nominate their colleagues, companywide announcements to showcase individual contributions or even a Zoom-based awards ceremony to say thank you
  • Introduce an entirely new ‘award’ into the business, and make sure you celebrate it as regularly as business allows.


People want to work for companies whose values and purpose align with their own. But that stretches beyond recruitment and the onboarding process, to a clear communication of the  strategy along their career path.

According to a study by IBM, 80% of employees say they have a better employee experience when they understand their company’s values, and feel like their work has meaning. By making sure your business’ key asset – your people – know what your company stands for and, more importantly, how their contributions and roles aligns with that, you’re set for success.

Top tips to communicate clarity

  • Make sure your ‘strategy’ is clear – challenge the business to put it on one slide, to ‘sing it’ (DHL style)
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat the strategy – use it in town halls, at the start of large meetings, make it the companywide screensaver and continue to embed it
  • Equip managers to show their direct reports and teams, in very real terms, how their job and responsibilities contribute to the strategy in ad-hoc performance management reviews

So, there you have it. The key to employee engagement isn’t rocket science but it is something that takes investment – of both time and resources. Sometimes it can be as simple as repeating the company mantra, or showcasing the superstars keeping the business running, or just remembering to implement two-way feedback, virtually or otherwise.

However you decide to drive your company forward, it’s worth remembering that the best way to skyrocket engagement levels is to find an engagement strategy that your employees will value. That strategy doesn’t have to be a guessing game – if you want to know what will help your employees feel more engaged, just ask them! Send out an employee survey to gather what’s important to them. It will pay off plentiful for your business.

Brave. Impactful. Agile. We are The Maverick Group and we’d love to hear from you. Here’s how to get in touch.