During the pandemic of 2020 and 2021, O’Brien Learning Solutions conducted primary research into the impact of the pandemic on employee engagement. We did this by holding staff focus groups on behalf of our clients. This enabled employees to talk about how they have been impacted by the changes that have arisen since the pandemic hit. Mainly those challenges related to working from home and what that change brought with it. What’s coming up time and time again is the impact of the pandemic on the ‘social fabric’ of the organisation. More specifically, work-relationships and how these have suffered as a result of continued ‘working from home’ practices. Whilst these practices are necessary and welcome in many cases, employers are now faced with the task of rebuilding the social fabric of the organisation, whilst the majority of employees fall into the category of ‘remote workers’.
Senior leaders are concerned about how to bring people together post-pandemic. Concerns with regards to safety and security obviously need to be addressed. Additionally, employers are rethinking employee engagement and social interaction strategies. Employees are clearly missing some of the ‘pre-COVID-19’ norms. These norms are the things most of us took for granted when we worked as part team. I.e. we had access to each other five days a week, walking to someone’s desk when we needed support or an urgent response. Norms such these, for now are a thing of the past in many of the organisations that we spoke to.
In many reported cases, managers and team members are missing the ‘banter’ as we say here in Ireland, with other team members in the canteen, at the water cooler and in the café at lunchtime. These opportunities for social connection may have been taken for granted, and even scorned at times.
The teams we consulted with reported a few key things they missed most, and these are the trends that emerged:
- The ability to walk over to someone with a query and create an opportunity for shared learning
- The informal ‘chit chat’ that can be a welcome break at times from heavy workloads
- The clear delineation between work time and home time when one was able to drive away from the office and towards home
- The ability to have a face to face check in with team members to see how they are doing and if they need support
Senior leaders and management must be vigilant now about employee engagement levels. Action is needed now before we see irreparable damage to the social dynamic of the workplace. But where can organisations make a start?
We take an evidence-based approach to the solutions that we provide to our clients. As a result, we have come across many ‘tips’ on creating the right conditions to foster healthy levels of employee engagement. One such piece of research from Markos and Sridevi (2010) proposes ten key areas that need continuous focus from managers and leaders to promote engagement. They call these points “tablets” because it is believed that they will “cure employee disengagement diseases” if taken.
We feel that these tips are relevant now more than ever. With the right level of support and focus, these ‘tablets’ can be applied to a remote working strategy. We encourage you to ‘take these tablets’ and use them as a gauge to determine how effective your employee engagement practices are at this crucial point in time.
- Start it on day one: Most organisations do have clear new talent acquisition strategies. However, they lack employee retention strategies. Effective recruitment and orientation programs are the first building blocks to be laid on the first day of the new employee. After the hiring decision is made, the manager has to ensure role-talent fit when placing an employee in a certain position and exert all managerial efforts needed to retain that talent in the organisation.
- Start it from the top: Employee engagement requires leadership commitment through establishing clear mission, vision and values. Unless the people at the top believe in it, own it, pass it down to managers and employees, and enhance their leadership, employee engagement will never be more than just a “corporate fad” or “another HR thing”.
- Enhance employee engagement through two-way communication: Managers should promote two-way communication. Employees are not sets of pots to which you pour out your ideas without giving them a chance to have a say on issues that matter to their job and life. Clear and consistent communication of what is expected of them paves the way for engaged workforce.
- Give satisfactory opportunities for development and advancement: Encourage independent thinking by giving them more job autonomy so that employees will have a chance to make their own freedom of choosing their own best way of doing their job – so long as they are producing the expected result. Manage through results rather than trying to manage all the processes by which that result is achieved.
- Ensure that employees have everything they need to do their jobs: Managers are expected to make sure that employees have all the resources such as physical or material, financial and information resources in order to effectively do their job.
- Give employees appropriate training: Help employees update themselves increasing their knowledge and skills through giving appropriate training. Generally, it is understood that when employees get to know more about their job, their confidence increases there by being able to work without much supervision from their immediate managers, which in turn builds their self-efficacy and commitment.
- Have a strong feedback system: Companies should develop a performance management system which holds managers and employees accountable for the level of engagement they have shown. Conducting regular survey of employee engagement level helps make out factors that make employees engaged. Managers should be behind such survey results and develop action-oriented plans that are specific, measurable, accountable and time- bound.
- Incentives have a part to play: Managers should work out both financial and non-financial benefits for employees who show more engagement in their jobs. Several management theories have indicated that managers should work out both financial and non-financial benefits for employees who show more engagement in their jobs.
- Build a distinctive corporate culture: Companies should promote a strong work culture in which the goals and values of managers are aligned across all work sections. Companies that build a culture of mutual respect by keeping success stories alive will not only keep their existing employees engaged but also, they baptise the new incoming employees with this contagious spirit of work culture.
- Focus on top-performing employees: A study conducted by Watson Wyatt Worldwide in 2004/05 on HR practices of 50 large USA firms shows that high-performing organisations are focusing on engaging their top-performing employees. According to the finding of the same research, what high-performing firms are doing is what top-performing employees are asking for and this reduces the turnover of high-performing employees and as a result leads to top business performance.
At O’Brien Learning Solutions, we specialise in creating organisational cultures which generate sustainable levels of employee engagement.
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