By Claude Werder, Senior Vice President and Principal HCM Analyst, Brandon Hall Group

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” This old saying aptly applies to the COVID-19 crisis.

Everything in the workplace has changed, but what employees need from their employers and leaders remains the same.

In Brandon Hall Group’s 2020 Employee Engagement Study, organizations told us these were the most important steps to improve engagement:

  • Create a sense of belonging.
  • Enable teamwork, collaboration.
  • Create an atmosphere of trust.
  • Consistently recognize and show appreciation.
  • Improve employee perceptions that their work is meaningful.
  • Give employees the freedom and authority they need to make decisions related to their jobs.

All these actions help create better everyday employee experiences: the key to engagement. As employees adjust how, when and where they work, it’s a great opportunity for employers to do a better job at what they already know is important.

Whether your employees are working remotely for the first time, working different shifts, taking on new responsibilities, working fewer hours or furloughed, they must understand their roles, what they can expect, how they can help, how you can help. Here are some suggestions:

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Leading organizations we interviewed have COVID-19 task forces, including a group focusing on employee messaging. The more information you share, the easier employees can cope. You also confirm their value and show your empathy.
  • Solicit ideas. Don’t pretend to know all the answers. Ask your employees for suggestions. That reinforces your commitment to collaboration and teamwork — plus you are likely to get brilliant ideas you hadn’t considered.
  • Welcome feedback. Not everything will go perfectly. Some people will be critical. Solicit and welcome feedback. A critical component to engagement is employees feeling that they are heard. Soliciting feedback demonstrates your willingness to listen. Also, let employees know how you acted on their suggestions.
  • Facilitate collaboration. Use whatever tools you have to get people working together to solve problems. For example, social collaboration tools might be second-nature to some and completely foreign to others. Let the natives help the novices get on board (teamwork). Then use the tools to spread collaboration to mitigate the isolation of expanded work-at-home and other unfamiliar situations.
  • Recognize good work and good deeds. People do extraordinary work and demonstrate astonishing kindness in crises. Make sure to encourage people to recognize each other in whatever ways are available. Management should take extra steps to recognize and, if practical, reward employees for going the extra mile to help colleagues and customers.
  • Share success stories. Companies are working through a slew of challenges. Show employees their work is meaningful by sharing great outcomes.
  • Help employees cope. Everyone is stressed. If possible, dedicate a team of people to help employees. For example, one company repurposed a “life events services team” that prepares employees for retirement, maternity leave, medical leave and other circumstances. Those people — plus reallocated staff from HR — now handle virus questions and track people at risk of exposure, helping as needed.
  • Trust employees to make decisions. Our world is in flux. It will be impossible to control everything employees do. Give them as much direction as time and circumstance allow, welcome questions, then allow them to do their jobs. Let employees know you trust them. It will help you get through this and will carry over when the crisis subsides.

Collectively, these actions can go a long way to reinforce your employees’ trust for the organization and improve their impressions based on how you react in the face of crisis and uncertainty.

The context of employee engagement has changed dramatically over the last couple of weeks, but the opportunity and importance remain. Seize the moment.

-Claude Werder, Senior Vice President and Principal HCM Analyst, Brandon Hall Group

Claude Werder is Brandon Hall Group’s Senior Vice President and Principal HCM Analyst. He focuses on Leadership Development and Talent Management. Brandon Hall Group is a leading research and analyst firm with Practices in Learning & Development, Talent Management, Leadership Development, Talent Acquisition and Workforce Management/Core HR.

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