10 Employee Engagement & Internal Communications Trends for 2022

December 14, 2021

As we wrap up another year, the brilliant minds at Brilliant Ink have been thinking about what’s ahead for the world of employee experience.

Back in the haze of 2020, who would've thought that a record 19 million U.S. workers (and counting) would quit their jobs between April and now? Or that a whopping 60% of people plan to leave their job in 2022?

Now here we are, 12 months later, trying to make sense of the blur of 2021, and forecast how the world of work will respond. Curious what we’re seeing, planning and doing? It’s all here.

1. The Year of Iteration

If 2021 was the year of “Return to Office,” 2022 will be the year of “Did we get this right?” From hybrid workplaces to new communications channels to revamped business processes, we’ve seen the future of work transpire in real-time, reactive mode, prompted by COVID-19.

As teams and cultures settle into this new normal, sentiment will begin to bubble up, either in the form of annual engagement surveys, qualitative feedback or (worst-case scenario) upticks in attrition. Leadership will be charged with assessing their businesses and employee experiences to figure out where they got it right, and where there’s progress left to make. – Patty Rivas, Vice President

2. IC Preferences Surveys Are Here to Stay

Asking employees how they want to receive news and updates is not a new concept. But as you’ve heard me say before, the pandemic put internal communications preferences surveys in the spotlight. As some workforces went remote, while others stayed on the front line, or a mix of both, it became even more critical to understand how employees prefer to access information.

In 2021, the focus shifted toward how to best communicate with a hybrid workforce. Given the volume of surveys Brilliant Ink is working on, I have a sneaking suspicion that internal communications preferences surveys are here to stay.

And hopefully, they won’t be conducted only in times of change, but annually. Communication needs are fluid  and viewing them as static is no longer an option. – Becky Sennett, Senior Strategist & Research Lead

3. A Shift to Distributed Workforces

In 2022, we'll go beyond the remote workforce and companies will be striving toward building a truly distributed workforce. Leaders will have to shift their thinking about remote workforces, moving from individual responsibility to organizational responsibility. That’s right: it’s going to be the company’s job to provide the same context of in-person work, remotely (i.e., work practices, behaviors, systems and processes).

"A key change, from an operational point of view, will be the increasing intersection of IT and HR teams within companies to establish tools and policies that increase worker autonomy and alignment. Work execution culture, the sum of technologies and behaviors and work practices and workflows that those technologies allow is becoming a much more important part of the employee experience." – Chris Marsh, 451 research

The level of alignment in a truly distributed workforce is much higher and ensures consistency and buy-in to the strategy, even with greater autonomy and flexibility in job roles. – Lauren Underhill, Senior Strategist

4. The Future of the Office

With so many companies deciding to move to a fully or largely remote model, I’m eager to see how all of the tremendously expensive office space – particularly in cities like New York and San Francisco – is transformed to better serve employees in this new world of work. As a leader of a fully remote team myself, I’m a firm believer in the value of occasional in-person gatherings to establish and maintain trust among team members, so I am hopeful that offices will become hubs for that kind of trust-building.

I predict cubicles and executive offices will be replaced with collaboration spaces and “drop in” workstations. And in the process, I hope that companies are able to decrease their spending on office space (and the environmental impacts it brings) and increase investment in things like employee growth, development and culture-building. – Ann Melinger, CEO

5. Companies that Live DEI will Retain Talent

All signs point to the Great Resignation continuing its trajectory in 2022 -- with the uncertainty around Omicron and RTO plans tabled until mid-2022 (at best), employees will continue to demand flexibility and change, and employers will continue to have trouble retaining people.

A recent survey found that 78 per cent of workers want their employer to prioritize DEI, but nearly a quarter think that their employer is “not doing enough” to create a diverse, inclusive workplace. Companies that truly live DEI in 2022 -- from hiring to internal policies/procedures to promotional opportunities -- will have little trouble retaining top talent. In particular, pay equity will be the deciding factor for employees who are considering the exit sign.

Don't just talk DEI; live it. – Farida Habeeb, Ph.D, Senior Strategist

6. Inclusion & Representation in Design

It's one thing to say your company is inclusive. It's another thing to show it (literally). In 2022, we'll continue to see companies grapple with where their brand falls short in representing diverse employee populations.

From stock imagery to iconography, we'll see people in all shapes, shades and sizes more authentically represented, so employees can actually see themselves in their company’s designs. Representation is key in helping to drive change. – Claire Stuart, Creative Services Lead

7. Climate Consciousness is the New Cool

That cute rock we all live on is having some trouble and as consumers and employees get savvier about how that harm is being perpetrated, they’ll start making different choices in what companies they support and where they work. Companies are becoming vocal about being carbon neutral or plastic-free by 2025, but I anticipate employees demanding more, even as governmental restrictions lag. A global survey from IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) found that 71% of employees say that environmentally sustainable companies are more attractive employers and

"more than two-thirds of respondents are more likely to apply for and accept jobs with environmentally and socially responsible organizations – and nearly half would accept a lower salary to work for [them]" – ibm institute for business value

My optimistic brain can’t help but hope that the people who really make these organizations run will continue to push leaders toward positive (climate) change. – Sara Forner Howland, Vice President

8. Demand for Work-Life Integration

While universal adoption of a 4-day work week is likely wishful thinking for 2022 (although Congress has been lobbying for it!) we'll definitely see a rise in employees expecting and demanding better work-life balance and integration.

With 89% of professionals reporting they are suffering from burnout, and 81% saying they are more burned out now than at the start of the pandemic, people want the freedom to build their work week around their life outside of work.

So, between hybrid  and permanent work-from-home models, I think we'll see more companies allowing employees to choose their working hours and days and (hopefully) encouraging employees to truly shut down during non-working hours. – Anna Downing, People Operations Lead

9. Beefing Up Benefits for Caregivers

When it comes to employee benefits, the bar is rising and I think we’ll see people demand better benefits for caregivers. Although in many industries paid parental leave is still a pipe dream, we’re seeing companies like Pinterest set a new standard. Their updated benefits in 2022 include (but are certainly not limited to!) global parental leave, paid leave for NICU, financial assistance for adoptive parents, paid leave for pregnancy loss as well as IVF and egg freezing. And Pinterest isn't the only company rethinking their benefits strategy.

"almost all (98%) of the leaders we surveyed plan to newly offer or expand at least one employee benefit, prioritizing the ones workers deem most essential, like child and senior care benefits, flexibility around when and where work gets done, and expanded mental health support." – Tim Allen, Care.com

Taking care of loved ones as well as ourselves is the key to keeping people engaged and I think we will continue to see companies providing more resources and support so that their people can truly bring their whole selves to work. – Lindsay McCleary, Head of Operations

10. More Human (and Humane) Workplaces

Whether you call it the Great Resignation or the the Great Reshuffle, this wave represents a major shift in the American workplace where employees are finally saying “Hey! I’m a human with feelings, goals and priorities. I deserved to be treated as such and I’m not getting it here – so good day.”  

The Great Resignation is all about people putting themselves first. Employees are looking for places that value their uniqueness, and trust them to produce good work without being forced to conform to the 9-5 structure, the physical office or unrealistic expectations.  

"Organizations that are leading the way in employee wellbeing embed it in all aspects of their people strategy. Research shows that this has a positive impact on retention, absenteeism levels, productivity, and overall satisfaction." – Korn ferry

Employers are going to have to step up by leading with empathy, offering flexibility and trust, genuinely prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, and rethinking what they really offer employees (and how it sets them apart from the competition). – Gabriel Galdamez, Marketing Lead & Senior Strategist

What else is on the horizon?

Ragan has identified 5 ways internal communicators can take the bull by the horns in 2022 and #WeLeadComms has outlined where internal communication leaders need to shake things up in 2022. PwC's Global Culture Survey also highlights the increasing importance of organizational culture.

No one could have predicted all that 2021 would bring but, if we take stock of what we've learned to do (and not do!) this year, we can make a real difference for our people in the year to come. And if you want to see how good we are at this game, check out our predictions for 2021 and 2020 here.

For more bite-sized brilliance, subscribe to our monthly employee engagement newsletter, the Inkwell, and follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest!

Sara Forner Howland

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