Employee sentiment soars in 2021

Oct 10, 2021

Use this data to inform your firm’s strategy and keep employee sentiment high.

The latest data is in from the AEC industry’s largest employee experience survey, Zweig Group’s Best Firms To Work For survey. One thing is clear, employee sentiment has soared this year. It’s not surprising considering how challenging 2020 was for many, but this year’s data actually surpassed 2019. The survey results include more than 1.8 million data points on employee experience, increasingly referred to as “EX.” Employees still feel strongly that Best Firms To Work For continually strive to improve, are ethical, and provide high quality work for clients.

In 2021, employee sentiment soared across the board. When looking at the overall data set, of the 135 ranked items, only three dropped in 2021 over 2020. That’s incredibly low. What is even more interesting is what those three items were and what they say about how employees are feeling right now. Ranked in order starting with the biggest decrease, here are the three points where employee sentiment dipped in 2021 compared to 2020:

  1. My firm provides opportunities for socializing and celebrating special events.
  2. Effectiveness of your team(s) working from home.
  3. Your effectiveness working from home.

Both No. 2 and No. 3 soared after the pandemic started and were highly ranked in 2020, only to plummet in 2021. So, using the Best Firms To Work For survey data to inform your firm’s strategy, here are a few recommendations to keep employee sentiment high:

  • Maintain that increased “state of the company” communication. Communication has historically been one of the biggest gripes of employees, however, the pandemic turned that around. It is apparent that the new forms of communication and increased frequency was appreciated by employees. It seems counterintuitive that communication scores would soar when people are isolated at home versus sitting next to each other in the office. I believe the jump in scores was reflective of the frequency and content. In 2020 we talked more about the “state of the company” with more raw talk about the current situation and the future. I believe the trends we saw in communication data from 2019 to 2020 and now to 2021 indicate employees want more “real talk” and transparency about the company and the state of the industry. Employees like to know what’s going on in the company and have a lot more interest in the inner workings than many leaders realize. Additionally, sharing this more meaningful information with employees builds a culture of transparency and candidness that benefits everyone. Such a culture empowers people to have the hard conversations that are needed between team members to address issues. Transparency also gives employees more security as they better understand the firm, the operating environment, and how things might affect them.
  • Confront underperformance. One of the biggest issues in recent years has been around firms dealing with underperformers. This has tended to trend down over the past three years, tracking with industry data that shows AEC firms getting busier. When we’re busy, we tend to keep our heads down to get the work done and are less likely to confront issues. This is especially true if it means we may lose an employee, which could mean lost production capacity. With concern about burnout at an all-time high, confronting issues tends to become less of a priority. The reality is that many employees at all levels of the org chart feel the effects of a team member who is not performing or is toxic. When we do not confront these issues, it demotivates our greatest people. Confront problems in your firm and your productivity will increase.
  • Develop flexible policies that reflect your ideal culture. The latest data suggests that the work situation, possibly just the uncertainty around everything, has worn on employees and they are feeling less effective as time goes on. This means firms have got to figure out how to most effectively work in a COVID world, whether in the office, at home, or a combination of both. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to how firms should return to the office or what long-term, flexible work-from-home policies should look like. You’ve got to figure out what’s important to your clients, what your people want, and how you want to be positioned in the marketplace. Peaks and valleys in COVID may be with us for a while, as we’ve seen in just the past several weeks with the delta variant. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, make sure the message reinforces trust in employees – employees like to feel trusted, just like you want to feel trusted by your clients.

We will share a lot more data and trends from this and other awards programs at our in-person ElevateAEC Conference & Awards Gala at the Hyatt Regency in Denver from November 3-5. The conference was designed earlier this year at the peak of the pandemic, so regardless of where we are in November, the space and experience will adapt to keep attendees safe and to allow us to have a great in-person experience. Click here for more information on the conference. I hope to see you in Denver!

Chad Clinehens is Zweig Group’s president and CEO. Contact him at cclinehens@zweiggroup.com.

Zweig Group is thrilled to announce that the annual in-person ElevateAEC Conference & Awards Gala will return in Denver, November 3-5, restoring the full agenda. This includes bringing back the iconic black-tie awards gala celebrating the 2021 winners of the Hot Firm list, Best Firms To Work For, Marketing Excellence, Rising Stars, Top New Ventures, and the Jerry Allen Courage In Leadership Awards. Click here to learn more or to register for the AEC industry’s top in-person learning and networking event of the year.

Click here to read this week's issue of The Zweig Letter.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.