Pre-coronavirus, employee engagement had evolved from ‘cause for concern’ to ‘signs of improvement’, with Gallup reporting in 2018 the percentage of engaged workers in the U.S. was at an all-time high of 34%, while actively disengaged workers had dropped to a new low of 13%.
But, since quarantine transformed the dynamics of how many companies operate, employers have been wondering how to maintain morale, and keep their teams enthusiastic and committed from afar. The motivation for doing so is clear: a 2017 study by the Engagement Institute found disengaged employees cost U.S. companies between $450 – $550 billion a year collectively.
So, how can companies–many now on much leaner budgets–keep engagement high and teams tight amid global uncertainty? It has been heartening to see so much creativity. Virtual book clubs, interactive quizzes, video game tournaments and photography competitions have become regular fixtures in team calendars.
Give praise for good work
But experts warn that, while online social activities are great for morale, they aren’t necessarily effective for improving engagement. Candace Nicolls, senior vice president of people and workplace at Snagajob, says it’s critical to remember employee engagement is built on trust, not virtual happy hours.
She advises not overlooking the importance of recognition, adding: “It can be easy to focus on the negatives, or just the work, and having systems and rituals to celebrate wins and give recognition can help maintain camaraderie and morale. Make sure you treat people like, well, people. Take the time to check in individually, and make sure they’re taking the time off they need to recharge.”
Praise from a manager costs nothing but their time. And it’s well worth considering how best to deliver recognition for different personality types within a team. While many would be happy to receive praise in a group Slack channel or in the company’s digital workplace, seen by all, others may hate to be singled out. In those cases, a written or video message sent by email would be better received.
Liz Woerth, head of talent at Approach Marketing, says a personalized message of acknowledgement and appreciation can carry more weight than a financial incentive, especially while employees worry they or their efforts aren’t being seen. She suggests: “Cite specific examples of the ways they’ve impressed you or demonstrated perseverance through the pandemic. Even better? Enlist multiple people to share messages with the person on the same day.”
But praise doesn’t have to come from the top down: peer recognition is also incredibly powerful. Businesses that have ‘thank you’ tools already built into their intranets are well set up for it, and can quantify which initiatives and projects are inspiring the best work or most innovative ideas. They can see, at a glance, who is going above and beyond. In the absence of more sophisticated apps, chat channels can be dedicated to peer recognition.
Encourage learning together
A June 2020 survey by Evernote found that, with less socializing and traveling and more time spent at home, Americans are seizing the chance to learn new things. Since social distancing began, more than half (51%) of the 1,283 U.S. adults surveyed had learnt a new skill.
But taking an online training course, while great for professional or personal development, isn’t necessarily going to make your people feel more closely bonded to your culture or their work. That’s why Andrew DeBell, co-founder of consultancy Water Bear Learning, advises getting your team to take an online training course together.
He explains: “LinkedIn Learning and Coursera offer low-cost video-based training courses on a wide range of topics. The idea is if your entire team is taking a course together, you can share insights, collaborate on projects, and discuss relevant topics. The benefits? You’re all learning new skills and knowledge, plus building your team dynamics, and therefore, improving employee engagement.”
If employees do take an online course alone, invite them to share what they’ve learnt with a five-minute tutorial delivered in a live or pre-recorded video meeting, and encourage questions. In short, make an individual experience into a shared experience.
Understand engagement is employer-led
While lots of business leaders expend energy wondering how to make employees more engaged, what they fail to see is that the charge needs to be employer-led.
Bill Flynn, who runs Catalyst Growth Advisors, coaching CEO clients, recommends asking employees two questions in weekly one-to-one meetings. The first: what is your number one priority this week? The second: how can I help you?
He adds: “Do this consistently making sure you follow through on every reasonable request for help. The entire team will become more and more engaged. Please note that this may lead to some folks leaving your team as they were likely poorly placed and the added attention will highlight this.”
Employer-led engagement can be as simple as making sure everyone gets the chance to contribute in video meetings, or as brave as being transparent and up front (as well as hopeful) about the health of the business.
By: Nigel Davies
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