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The next few months are going to be tough for professionals. Difficult workplace changes, remote working, social distancing and anxiety over the pandemic, organizations and workforce will be juggling with a whole host of uncertainties. Employee engagement will thus take a hit under the current conditions. If you see a crisis and economic slowdown, it is time to flip the coin and look for an opportunity to focus on employee engagement now. Sharing a few ideas that might help keep employees more engaged, and more focused during the current crisis.

1. Creating a Desirable Work Environment

How can companies create a desirable work environment when employees are not at work? Work environment is not brick and mortar or wood and paper. Remember all the water-filter conversations you had with your team members? You enquired about how convenient their daily travel was, their passion, motivation and after work plans. Now is the time to reconnect those and touch base with your team at a personal level. Take those conversations up by a few notches by checking on them, their families, their convenience to work from home, their childcare and adult care arrangements, their anxiety, and distress, if any.

Another important aspect of work is break time and rejuvenation. Average employee takes 60 mins breaks in an eight-hour workday. It is proven that employee work more hours and are more productive when working from home. During one-on-ones, make sure you talk to your team members not only about their deliverables but also about how they are rejuvenating themselves. Develop an informal channel for the team where they can post thoughts, fun ideas, and memes, to mimic the camaraderie that happens over coffee breaks.

2. Unleash the flow of information

Communication is always the key. Top-down communication at this time should be more than all-staff emails. Get people together for questions and answers. Make communication regular, more than you would during normalcy. Employees are worried and you need to reassure them. Even if it is bad news, be as transparent as possible. Your staff will not be engaged unless they know you consider them as allies.

Encourage regular two-way feedback. Tell your employees what is going on and take feedback from them. If your feedback process is traditional or one-way, now is the time to change it. Open up newer channels. This fosters an environment where employees feel that they have a real voice. Treat feedback as data, there is no right or wrong, but an opportunity to strengthen culture, processes, and bottom line.

3. Stay focused on people’s strengths

Career growth is the most important job aspect for professionals. Ensure career discussions continue to happen, star performers have the chance to develop their skills and underperformers improve performance. Managers need to stay focused on individual’s career plans, provide mentoring opportunities, and make pathways for employees to grow and succeed at their jobs. Now that a lot of hiring is at a standstill, it is time to redirect budgets towards learning and development of employees.

4. Uphold the culture

Reid Hoffman said, “In the time of crisis, it is actually not more difficult to motivate your staff, because everyone gets much more focused on how they control their destiny.” In such a scenario, what should leaders focus on? The answer is Culture. A good leader leads with a good plan and a strong value system. If he fails, he makes another plan and upholds his value system. Thus, making a strong culture in the process.

5. Acknowledge and appreciate

Hard work and intent need to be rewarded adequately. Organizations often underestimate the effect of non-financial rewards. For example, companies often cut down on yearly celebrations at this time. That does not give a positive message to employees. If cost reduction is inevitable, think about other ways to make your employees feel valued and worthy of perks – such as extra yearend holidays, fluid work hours or family time breaks.

6. Stay optimistic

These are trying times. In this hour it is only human to foster a tendency to focus more on problems and perceived threats rather than looking at the numerous positive things happening around us. Pondering over problems only takes away the focus of a great leader from the contributions of the team. In times of challenge, keeping people motivated and optimistic is more vital than ever. Another way to show optimism is by expressing gratitude. Small wins count and deserve applause. While you appreciate small wins, consider setback as an opportunity. When someone talks about an error or is highlights a red flag, thank him/her for early tracking. Celebration instill faith.

7. The elephant in the room

Layoffs are stressful and anxiety ridden. Employees are worried about their families and their futures. But before you decide to layoff, be informed the cost of hire in future is going to be double or at times thrice the cost of the current resource. Look for job rotations and ways to transition employees to newer positions. Your employees would require health care benefits in these trying times. Reduction in pay can also help them stay afloat.