Top 10 Trends for Employee Engagement in 2016

January 5, 2016by Jason TurnerEmployee EngagementEmployer BrandingStorytelling


2016 will be looked at as “The year it all changed.” For the past two years, the HR and Internal Communications industry has come under ever mounting pressure to do more with less, demonstrate measurable value and justify every penny spent.

The improving economy has opened the door to company growth but also made great resources (people) scarce and more costly. In an effort to continue company growth, despite resource constraints, executive teams and boards now expect more than ever from their HR and Internal Communications teams. All of this has put immense pressure on the industry to “up its game.” This pressure has put us all on the precipice of incredible, and hugely rewarding, change. It has also produced trends that are vital to capitalize on if you wish to succeed in 2016.

Here are the top 10 trends for employee engagement in 2016 to follow to “up your game:”

  1. Employer Branding

    For years companies have become highly attuned to how branding impacts the customer experience. This year they will apply the same focus to their internal brand as their marketing departments do to their external brand. They will realize that the internalbrand is their most powerful tool to recruit, retain, and stay connected with employees. Companies will invest in translating their brand essence into terms that are relevant to employees so employees can internalize, live and champion the brand at every minute of every day.

  1. Storytelling

    Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away there was a company called, “The Empire.” The Empire sent dryly-worded memos to its employees informing them of company news, policies, and directives. These memos served a purpose for the great leaders, but they failed to connect with the employees. Across The Empire employees felt it was a clear case of ‘us’ and ‘them.’ The employees didn’t care about the company and its cause because it felt separate from their own. On the other side of the galaxy, there was an advanced company called, “The Rebellion.” The Rebellion appreciated that their employees loved stories; stories that made them feel that they belong to something bigger than themselves; made them feel like they were part of a great cause. So The Rebellion respected this by giving their employees rich context, backstory, visuals and compelling copy. This advanced company also released content in exciting ways that explained what the company was doing, why it was doing it and how important the employees are to its cause. The employees of this company were eager to fight the dark competitors and be loyal to the cause. A great story arouses passion and rallies teams to become a force to be reckoned with.

  1. Step Into the Light

    In 2016, we will see a large shift in how HR and Internal Communications leaders operate their departments. How? For years, HR and Internal Communications leaders have looked across the hall at their company’s marketing teams with envy. HR and Internal Communications leaders have envied the rich audience insights, innovative new channels, the latest technologies, cross-functional teams, larger budgets and the attention of everyone in the company. Realizing that those same resources can, and now have to be, applied toHR and Internal Communications these leaders will step into the light and leverage many of the same approaches, tools, and skills as their consumer marketing colleagues. Specifically, 2016 will see more HR and Internal Communications departments using advanced tools like Marketo, Oracle Marketing Cloud, and Tableau.

  1. Internal Content Marketing

    For the past few years, consumer marketing leaders have spent an incredible amount of their resources creating and marketing content. Why? Because it’s what people (consumers) want and it is one of the strongest ways to build a relationship with a target audience. A great number of savvy HR and Internal Communications industry leaders have closely watched their consumer marketing colleagues market their content to huge success. These savvy leaders will make 2016 their year for modifying their communications approach to exploit all the wonderful things internal content marketing opens up to them. Leaders will realize that by simply looking at the rich content they produce every day as an asset/product, and leveraging proven consumer content marketing methods; they will exponentially increase the impact they have on employees.

  1. Audience Segmentation

    Audience segmentation is the grouping of employees based on common traits (age, learner type, channel preference, role, tenure, geo-location, etc.). In 2016, HR and Internal Communications teams will increasingly utilize this technique to enable precise and efficient communications targeting. They will see how segmentation ensures communications are relevant, timely and compelling to employees. If this is not part of your current process, know preparing for this will require additional effort, but targeting your communications will deliver a higher return on investment and immense value in sustaining employee engagement.

  1. Total Employee Experience

    Compensation isn’t the main factor anymore in an employee’s decision to work for, and remain loyal to, a company—especially with the millennials on your workforce. It’s about your company’s total impact on the employee’s life. In 2016 companies that manage this right will create a loyal and engaged workforce who stand behind the company’s values, whose pride and belief drive business performance. Remember that the employee experience extends all the way from one’s interactions in the hiring process, through the time they leave the company and everything in between.

  1. Measure, Measure, Measure

    In 2016 HR and Internal Communications departments will feel, and quickly adapt to, the demands long felt in other areas of the company. The demand to more frequently and more precisely measure activities and effectiveness. Cross-channel tactics now afford more response-based measurement capabilities, real-time insights and a truer sense of communications’ impact. With the increased pressure on department leads to measure everything we will see increased investment in measurement platforms, the creation/expansion of quant-based department skill sets and the introduction of detailed measurement strategies. All of which will be welcomed by CEOs, boards, and other executives. This will result in the approval of larger budgets and greater overall support for HR and Internal Communications departments.

  1. Data-Driven Decision Making

    Don’t glaze over! Data can seem ‘big’, cold, calculating, or intimidating, but it isn’t. The tools available today make it faster, cheaper and easier than ever before to gather useful data. This year the winning HR and Internal Communications departments overcome their data fears and embrace the fact that data is the vehicle to true understanding. Data-driven approaches will uncover reliable insights to better optimize content, communications, technology, and workflow. Anything else is just guesswork. In 2016 HR and Communications efforts will be more precise based on insights that come from data.

  1. ROI (Return On Investment)

    As the economy continues to improve and with it, drive the cost of good resources (employees) upward, CEOs will increase their demand to understand what the return on HR and Internal Communications investments are. With moresophisticated measurement capabilities and data-driven decision making, 2016 will see huge leaps forward in HR and Internal Communications proving their value through clear ROI metrics. With a quantifiable understanding of the impact HR and Internal Communications is having on the company, executives will have a greater trust for what they have always sensed which will lay the foundation for even greater investment in 2017. With success comes more budget. With more budget comes more engagement.

  1. ‘Participatory Communications’

    This trend has been building for the last two years and in 2016, we will see it take hold in a substantial way. Coined by Vignette, “Participatory Communications” engages employee opinion and thought leaders to participate in communications efforts and, in turn, they engage fellow employees to participate. This trend removes the now unwelcomed top-down only communications approach of yesteryears and, by using sources outside of executive leadership to broadcast the company’s message, it creates an organic alignment which builds a sense of employee ownership and unilateral trust. To capitalize on this trend communicators will open themselves to exploring new sources and perspectives. They will see that there are brand ambassadors and influencers everywhere within their organizations, and they will find them, inspire them, recognize and celebrate their achievement, and as a result, watch their communications connect in ways they would have never foreseen.


As we reflect on the top 10 trends for employee engagement in 2016 we see an obvious substrate emerge. HR and Internal Communications professionals that will lead their workforces to new heights in 2016 will embrace and fully exploit the tools, techniques, and resources used by their consumer marketing colleagues. Why? Because at the end of the day, there are no consumers, employees or customers. There are only people, and consumer marketers have spent decades advancing their skills in engaging people in mutually rewarding ways. 2016 is the year the HR and Internal Communications industry takes huge leaps forward in its level of sophistication and ability to drive more mutual benefit than at any other time in the industry’s history.

Inspired? Need help? Reach out and let’s talk.

Jason Turner

Jason is responsible for leading Vignette’s strategy practice, helping clients determine clear objectives, measures of success, and strategic plans that drive employee engagement, activation and deliver results. Over his 20 year career Jason has built and led both online and offline business—some from 0 to over 200 people. From packaged goods marketing; to spearheading global strategies for HP and Nissan; to leading a fast-fashion start-up and industry-wide innovations such as the first, and largest, HD music library by a major label. Jason brings the ability to work at all company scales and in a multitude of cultures. His skills as a strategist have guided brands like Nissan, HP, Walmart, SONY, Target, CVS and many others to growth and produce positive business results.