The importance of employee engagement in a post-COVID-19 environment cannot be understated. With ways of working for much of the global workforce having been turned on their head since early 2020, leaders have the opportunity and the responsibility to create an environment for their employees where they feel connected, appreciated, and ultimately supported, whilst also ensuring there is real clarity surrounding the businesses’ purpose. With people seeking connection now more than ever, employee engagement is being seen as the new measure of a brand’s success, and in a future where hybrid working is expected to remain for many, employers who invest in connecting teams emotionally will help build resilience amongst their team and manage job level stress, resulting in better health and wellbeing and a happier and more effective workforce.
It’s worth noting that it takes the human brain between two and eight months to adopt new behaviours, so with the changes that many of us have experienced since the start of the pandemic, we are now both physically and emotionally very different people and that of course means we have different needs from our places of work.
One of the biggest impacts we have seen in terms of employee engagement over the past 18 months or so, is the inextricable link between morale and productivity. During the pandemic, many employees have been faced with an increase in concerns surrounding health, job security and what the future may have in store, 62% of workers reported losing at least an hour per day in terms of productivity due to COVID-19 related stress, with more than one third losing more than two hours daily.
Employee morale is something that we’ve seen can change almost overnight if it is overlooked by the business. It goes without saying that if your employees feel appreciated and supported by their employer, they’re output is inevitably going to be better. It also goes hand in hand that for those businesses who overlook the importance of morale, that they will almost inevitably experience a decrease in productivity and customers will also experience a negative outcome.
So, what are the priorities when it comes to addressing post-COVID employee engagement? For the most part, it’s worth noting that employees still have the same needs as they did pre-COVID, these have just in many ways been heightened. The need to feel a sense of belonging, the opportunity for growth and the desire to make an impact are all the same as they were, but the way in which we meet these needs of employees is what has changed
Before jumping in, if you haven’t already, the first thing to do in terms of priorities is to listen. Stop asking employees to tell you what you want to hear, be honest with yourself and with them – find out what they really think. Whether you run culture surveys, performance reviews, or anything else like this, don’t wait for these to start listening to the needs of your team. Start with encouraging open dialogue between managers and teams to help provide insight into what could be standing in the way of teams doing their best work. Listen and take note of what themes come through and ensure these are considered carefully. It’s also worth noting that surveys, reviews, workshops, etc. are structured in a way to reiterate what the employer wants to hear – by opening up dialogue or different feedback avenues which are less orchestrated, you’ll open yourself up to better insights that can really help shape how you better your culture and/or working practises.
The best tool for building an impactful employee experience is your leadership team. An employee’s view of their role and even more widely about the company they work for is often shaped by the leadership they experience. Investing in your management is essential to drive a strong and positive workforce and ensuring those in leadership roles know they need to own the employee experience themselves is essential. As humans we can be given every tool under the sun, but if we don’t feel inspired then we’re very unlikely to push ourselves forward and engage. A people-first strategy which is supported by strong company-wide communication, from onboarding right through to ongoing engagement strategies is essential, regardless of whether workplaces return to previous ways of working or they continue to embrace hybrid or remote ways of working.
With canteen lunch chats and water-cooler moments for many lost or on-hold, we need to consider new ways in developing culture. Whilst many managers are doing a sterling job at keeping up the softer side of people management with their employees and checking in on them as individuals before jumping into the day-to-day tasks, we cannot rely on this. There is a real need to put effort in to providing the opportunity for your team to connect and for leaders to motivate and inspire. From orchestrating ‘time to chat’ coffee calls, ‘lunch and learn’ sessions and carving out regular development and growth conversations, we need to find new ways of developing and keeping culture alive when many if not all our communications are virtual.
We’ve referenced employee onboarding already but whilst it is essential to keep your current workforce engaged, it’s another challenge to successfully onboard and instil a sense of belonging to a culture they have never had the chance to ‘feel’ in person.
In the pre-COVID world new employees were exposed to the business culture in a more traditional manner, by simply walking into a new office and engaging with a new team. With remote and hybrid working, culture by osmosis is less likely to occur so it’s something that needs more careful consideration. One example of a way to help new employees begin to feel a sense of belonging is to create a forum specifically focused on them and their needs. For example, running a weekly 10-minute call for all new employees to give them the opportunity to ask questions in a safe environment, as well as giving them dedicated time to ensure they’re onboarded successfully. By creating two-way conversations from the very start of their employment journey you’re also showing them that they matter and that you want to invest time into them for their benefit right from the get-go. Consider increasing the feedback opportunities too so you can really listen to the experiences of your new employees and take these insights to continue to evolve your onboarding process to best support new starters.
In summary, whilst we’ve looked at some of the key employee engagement priorities, the biggest thing to call out is that doing nothing is simply not an option. The negative effects of disengagement will soon show up in your company culture, your reputation externally and ultimately your bottom line.
This year we’ve had a laser focus on employee engagement, and its vital role within all businesses. We’ll be finishing 2021 talking about some of the topics our clients have been asking us about, such as empowering employees to be brand ambassadors, how internal comms and employee engagement professionals can influence leadership and guide middle management, and how culture can be developed in a post-COVID world. Sign up to our Big Lowdown newsletter to stay in the loop.
And if you’re looking for your support with your employee engagement strategy, then get in touch to see how we can help.
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