Dr. Bob Nelson on Employee Engagement Challenges in 2023

Dr. Bob Nelson on Employee Engagement Challenges in 2023
The best leaders are positive and forward-looking, plus, to maximize motivation, it is important for leaders to provide an answer to “Why” to their people for whatever you are asking of them.

Bob Nelson, Ph.D. is considered the leading advocate for employee recognition, employee engagement, and retention worldwide. He has authored 31 books related to those topics that have together sold over 5 million copies worldwide.

As President of Nelson Motivation Inc., he has presented on six continents and worked with 1000s of companies including 80 percent of the Fortune 500.

Dr. Bob did his doctoral research with Dr. Peter F. Drucker, “The Father of Modern Management” and has been featured extensively in the national and international media including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, CBS 60 Minutes, MSNBC, ABC, PBS, and NPR about how best to motivate today’s employees.

Q 1: How do you foresee employee engagement challenges at work in 2023?

We’re in unprecedented times in the aftermath of the pandemic. Workplaces are in turmoil due to many reasons but the main one would be a permanent shift to a virtual work structure. We proved that Working From Home worked during the pandemic for most professional employees, 50 percent of whom report they are able to do their job completely remotely.

This is a big adjustment as most employers are wanting their employees back in the office at least one to three days per week. We also hear talk (primarily from the high-tech sector) about the coming recession which is strange given the current employment rate in the U.S. is historically low at 3.5%.

Q 2: How do you see employees’ needs in the current scenario and their expectations from employers especially middle managers and junior employees?

Well, the younger generations of employees want more flexibility and autonomy. Employees have shown through the pandemic that they are more productive—some studies show twice as productive—as they were in working-from-office, not even taking into account their commute time! But given the recent turbulent times and layoffs, especially in the tech sector, the younger generation reports an elevated interest in job security, that is, feeling they won’t be laid off unexpectedly.

That’s where engagement comes in. In general, younger and junior employees want to be more engaged, they want to be heard, and they want to be highly involved in the company where they work—and as you do those things, they will feel more secure in their positions. Research revealed that for 89% of employees, it is important for them to be involved in decisions at their workplace and 95% of them cite “open, honest and direct communication” as being critical to them and their success in their jobs.

Q 3-How companies can ensure job security for employees who are currently working with the organization?

Nothing beats success, so first and foremost, the company needs to be successful. Also, employees need to take initiative in their work.  For example, it is important to develop a viable suggestion system for your company. Not just a locked box in the company cafeteria or breakroom, but an active employee suggestion system.

I saw a very interesting example of this with a company I worked with. They called their employee suggestion system “I-Power” and with that, they asked each employee to submit TWO suggestions EVERY week on how things can be done better in the firm: How the company can make more money or save more money; how they can streamline processes, how they can better serve their clients, etc.

In the first year alone, the company received thousands of suggestions, and although they weren’t able to implement all of those, they were able to implement enough to have a significant impact on their revenues, which increased five-fold in just a few years, directly as a result of the employee suggestions that were submitted.”

Q 4: How to make frequent and meaningful conversations?

The best leaders are positive and forward-looking, plus, to maximize motivation, it is important for leaders to provide an answer to “Why” to their people for whatever you are asking of them.

If we ask employees to do something without telling them “Why” it is important, employees lack the context for the work that is needed and may as a result have doubts about the assignment. This provides them with a rationale behind any task which makes them feel more involved and hence more motivated to do the work.

It can be challenging for some leaders to be motivational and inspiring, but if one works on it, leaders can be better at it. Increased motivation for employees can be attained by talking about the firm, its goals, and its social responsibilities to the community and even to society, since most employees want to be part of something bigger than themselves where they work. It’s also important to provide employees career development opportunities and to highlight career paths in the company so that they can view their work as not just a job, but as part of a career.

Q 5: What are the top trends that will impact employee experience in 2023?

Employee experience is part of employee engagement and employee recognition is the top driver of employee engagement in most jobs today, as reported in the Harvard Business Review.

I think one of the crucial challenges for companies is to provide a positive employee experience and from my research that comes from very simple things: Thanking employees for desired behavior and performance when those occur; asking them for their input and suggestions (and providing autonomy and authority to pursue those suggestions); involving employees in decision-making, especially on those decisions that impact their work; and, when someone does make a mistake, focusing on the learnings and not the blame.

Q 6: What are the drivers of employee engagement and what are your tips to enhance employee engagement?

There is a simple proven strategy i.e.

  • Get to personally know your employees
  • listen to your employees
  • thank them when they do good work
  • encourage their input and suggestions
  • involve them in decisions you make
  • provide them personal feedback
  • and encourage their future development.

These small behavioral things make employees feel important and recognized!

Also, it is important to better connect your employees to each other at the team level whereby they can better support one another in delivering on the group’s goals.

Q 7: Tell us something about your latest and upcoming book

“My last book was entitled Work Made Fun Gets Done! Easy Ways to Boost Energy, Morale, and Results. It showcases over 400 real-life, successful strategies I’ve collected from individuals and companies for making work more fun at the individual, group, and organizational levels. My next book is entitled Already Naked: Lessons from Steve Jobs, The Man Who Created the First $Trillion Company. It offers an inside look at key insights from his amazing life that anyone could learn from and apply to their own life and career. 

Thank you, Dr. Bob!


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