EngagementCoronavirus and employee engagement: a catalyst for long-term change?

Coronavirus and employee engagement: a catalyst for long-term change?

Could the impact of COVID-19 transform our understanding of employee engagement for good? Sam Alberti and Jill Christensen examine the state of engagement post-coronavirus.

When it comes to people and culture, employee engagement is one of the core pillars of a thriving workplace. However, its delicate nature means that it can be easily disrupted. The spread of coronavirus seems to be doing exactly that, with a combination of unusual working conditions and personal uncertainty causing workers to become disconnected.

More specifically, this can primarily be attributed to the onset of remote working; however, hysteria can often play a big part in these scenarios, distracting the employee from the task at hand.

Not only are leaders already beginning to express concern at this prospect, but, according to one study, 38% of workers said they became frustrated and disengaged due to anxiety caused by the introduction of new processes.

Jill Christensen, best-selling author and employee engagement, offered her take on this, first clarifying the importance of safeguarding employee experience.

“Engaged employees trust leadership and feel an emotional connection to the company,” she said. “Because of this, they go above and beyond. It has a major bearing on how much effort they choose to give.”

The same study also reflects this, showing that 71% of executives rank employee engagement as ‘very important’ to achieving organizational success.

Acknowledging this importance accentuates the scale of the concern for employers. If the commitment and effort levels of a workforce are dropping during a time where the company is attempting to adjust to remote working, this can pose a major threat to the efficiency and success of the business.

“I would not be surprised if global employee disengagement rises in 2020, unless organizations are deliberate about putting an engagement strategy in place,” said Christensen. “Data tells us that remote workers tend to feel more neglected and disengaged.”

However, this does not have to be an inevitability. Leaders have an important role to play in reversing the effects of these circumstances and can take a variety of measures in attempting to do so.

The study, conducted by Harvard Business Review, examines this in greater depth, quantifying the impact of employee engagement on performance

The study also details the most impactful engagement drivers. From a survey of largely senior-level executives, 72% cited recognition for high performers, 70% cited communication strategy and 69% cited the extent to which business goals are communicated and understood.

In a time where remote working is not only widely accessible due to modern technologies, but essential due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is vital that organizations implement or improve such measures to control the situation appropriately.

“Companies must create a strategy to effectively manage remote workers and keep them engaged,” said Christensen.

“Your organization will be off to a good start if your managers focus their efforts in three key areas: Connection, Communication, and Collaboration.”

However, there exists another dimension to this scenario. Not only can a concerted effort be made to remedy the current state of disengagement, but leaders can also use this as an opportunity to stabilise what is already a volatile landscape.

For instance, according to Gallup research, just 33% of American workers are engaged by their jobs. In addition, 52% say they are “just showing up”, and 17% describe themselves as “actively disengaged”.

This provokes a straightforward conclusion: virus or no virus, many employers have a lot still to achieve when it comes to fully engaging their workforce and unlocking their full potential.

Christensen offered her take on this, saying she hopes the situation could spell a permanent change in the way employers deal with disengagement.

“Many organizations approach employee engagement incorrectly,” she said. “They either outsource it to HR or ask a culture committee to fix the problem. Neither of these solutions work.”

Christensen, however, has her own personal remedy for disengagement, and bases this in culture and leadership.

“In order to re-engage employees, you must create a strategic plan to create a better culture and then put the plan into the hands of the people who have the most impact on engagement – frontline managers.”

Finally, Christensen says that organizations should “hold managers accountable for their progress” in this regard, ensuring that they have the greatest possible impact on the engagement of their teams.

In sum, the issue surrounding coronavirus and disengagement is multi-dimensional. First and foremost, leaders must step up in this time of uncertainty and apply their best efforts to reengaging their employees.

But secondly, this must be viewed as an opportunity to correct engagement pitfalls that predated the pandemic. Christensen argues that these engaging qualities – such as good communication and performance recognition – should occur year-round, and not simply as a knee-jerk reaction to crises.

As a result, it is plausible that the impact of coronavirus could create a landscape-altering shift in the realm of employee engagement. Many hope that this will see permanent changes in the way employers approach the challenge of engaging their workforces.

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