Engagement Still Keeping HR Awake

By Kristen B. Frasch - Human Resource Executive

In the ever-growing minefield of HR leaders’ worries—be they regulatory, administrative or even personal—determining which one tops the list is hardly a clear-cut task. But, going by Human Resource Executive® ’s latest “What’s Keeping HR Up at Night?” survey, keeping employees engaged and productive is still the hands-down leader among all other headaches.

Although the percentage of the 323 HRE readers responding to the poll who listed as their No. 1 HR challenge “ensuring employees remain engaged and productive” went from 39 percent in 2015 to 33 percent this year, it still remains their top worry.

What’s more, when asked to “assess the current state of employee morale and engagement” in their organizations, there is clear indication they sense engagement levels going down. On a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being extremely strong morale and engagement, those choosing 4 and 5 went down while those choosing 2 and 3 went up. In other words, the lower numbers gained while the higher ones—indications of happy workforces—declined.

Hanging on to employees is another key concern, with well over half of respondents, 68 percent, coming in at “extremely” or just under “extremely” to the question, “How concerned are you about losing talent over the next 12 months?”

Laura Sejen, New York-based managing director of talent and rewards for Willis Towers Watson, says the survey results “align with both our research and what we are hearing from clients.” In the United States, she says, “HR leaders are increasingly concerned about attracting and retaining critical-skill employees. ... Employers in all industries are [also] concerned about finding and keeping employees with digital skills, [as well as] maintaining productivity levels and improving engagement across the workforce.”

Meanwhile, worries about contending with and administering the Affordable Care Act, primarily the pending arrival of the Cadillac Tax in 2020 (albeit delayed by two years), remain. Asked to rate the time, energy and worry the law is having on their organization, those responding “extremely significant” rose from 15 percent last year to 17 percent currently, though responses just under “extremely significant” decreased from 34 percent in 2015 to 28 percent this year.

“While the delay in the Cadillac Tax is a relief, a repeal would really help HR sleep much better,” says Brian Marcotte, president and CEO of the Washington-based National Business Group on Health. “The delay only increases the number of companies that will be impacted by the excise tax when it goes into effect in 2020. [We’re finding] more than 50 percent of employers state their plan with the highest enrollment will trigger the tax in 2020 … [clearly,] this is … a tax on all plans, not [just] ‘rich’ plans.”