Even when businesses or organizations are operating normally and all seems well, employee engagement can be a challenging workplace approach to manage. Fortunately, with the value of engaged employees widely known, most organizations have made great strides in identifying and implementing the unique drivers of employee engagement. However, in 2020 with the global pandemic and sudden increase in working remotely, managing employees who are truly engaged in their work and the success of their organization is more complex. It goes without saying that no company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it (Bhatnagar, 2008).
This article explores some of the ways to help you improve employee engagement during a time of crisis and significant increase in remote work. However, before diving in, let’s first review the meaning of employee engagement. Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric, stated that “Employees feel engaged when they find meaning and motivation in their work, receive positive interpersonal support, and function in an efficient work environment.” An engaged employee has a vested interest in the employer’s success and whose performance level exceeds his or her job requirements. These are employees who help establish a competitive advantage and drive business performance.
With this understanding, we ask: How do you ensure your team members are engaged when they’re facing a crisis that impacts their professional and personal lives – emotionally, socially, and mentally? What do organizations’ do to ensure that employees are still engaged and “living out the organization’s culture” without the constant reminder from leaders, team members, or wall posts that direct the organizations values, beliefs, and objectives? There are many ways that this can be achieved; below I provide four strategies:
Purpose and Meaning
Employee engagement is one of the most important indicators in gauging workplace satisfaction. Today’s employees want to be involved in their work, enthusiastic about their organization, and are looking for more than just a “job”, but how can you keep your employees engaged and committed to the vision and their work during a crisis while also remaining empathetic and sensitive to what they are going through personally and professionally? You may consider reminding them of the meaning and purpose of what they’re doing and how that translates to the organization’s ability to positively impact customers and other stakeholders. For example, think about the organizations that rapidly produced high volumes of ventilators and masks during the COVID-19 breakout. This meaningful work helped save millions of people, and the employees who contributed to that effort undoubtedly felt great pride. Similarly, compel your team members to be a part of the solution by creating a culture of creativity and innovation. Let them help you design and provide solutions to the challenges the organization is facing.
Leaders must ensure that employee engagement does not end with surveys or theoretical frameworks and strategies. It must certainly also go beyond casual dress days, celebrating office birthdays, and a free turkey at holiday time. Instead, ensuring the successful execution of practical workplace solutions will show employees that being completely committed to their work equates to more than just a paycheck – it’s their dedication and passion towards their role that’s often reflected in their individual outcomes. For example, your first objective can be to show kindness and compassion for your employees, as any crisis or significant change can make people vulnerable, fearful, and even confused. A good leader tries to minimize these fears and anxieties by identifying with employees at a human level. As you extend assistance and support, realize that it can’t always simply be about business performance and sustainability – it’s best to take a viewpoint that encompasses the overall well-being of each team member. Secondly, define both the group and individual work expectations in the new business environment because they may change temporarily or permanently as a result of the crisis or working remotely. It’s a leader’s responsibility to make sure employees know and understand these expectations. Further, while making necessary adjustments, assign work and projects that allow remote team members to feel engaged and inspired and encourage them to take accountability and responsibility as they deliver on the outlined work expectations.
Research indicates that 94% of employees state that they would stay in their job longer if they felt the organization truly invested in the development of their career. Through professional development opportunities, managers have the ability to create an environment in which employees can experience great satisfaction with their work and the motivation that organizations need to drive better business results. Unfortunately, many organizations experiencing crisis, or even a planned transformation, frequently make the mistake of drastically reducing training and development budgets as a way of managing costs. However, it’s exactly during a crisis or transformation, that providing employees with opportunities for development and promotion keeps them engaged and motivated when they most need to be. An organization’s investment in learning and development initiatives unquestionably demonstrates to their employees that they’re valued as individuals.
Connection and Communication
Connection and communication are significantly important aspects of employee engagement and central to the combination of a crisis and remote work. Given the uncertainty, fears, and frustrations that exist within crisis environments, leaders will likely need to increase the frequency with which they interact with their team and individual members. It’s important to understand what your team members are going through emotionally and connect with them by providing support and resources for their projects and as much guidance as possible. Encourage team collaboration and provide the tools and platforms that enable this kind of work. Unsurprisingly, the essential ingredient to these connections is communication. Communicate the appropriate information at the right time, using the right platforms, and as frequently as possible. High levels of trust and transparency should also be embedded in effective communication as they improve employee engagement. In both crisis and transformation, leaders should openly communicate to team members the intended course of action, the rationale behind the trajectory, and how their contribution to the organization’s future vision will continue to bring success to all stakeholders.
We’ve established that even in normal times keeping employees engaged can be challenging, but suddenly add a crisis and remote work, and that challenge becomes infinitely more complex and intricate. As a result, organizations need to ensure the implementation of the right employee engagement strategies to strike a delicate balance between productivity and employee well-being. Organizations must be flexible and adjust their engagement tactics as necessary. The question I will leave you with is: What employee engagement strategy are you implementing for your unique organization and team?