Date: August 2020
By: Carol Nagele-Vitalis, MA, Director of Organizational Services, Sand Creek EAP
Many of us are attempting to manage organizations and departments with employees in alternate work environments. If we stop to think about the world right now, it often feels like we are living in an alternate universe! How do we connect with and support our employees? There is no doubt that working toward an engaged work force is more important than ever.
Gallup research describes the many benefits of an engaged workforce:
- Team members produce substantially better outcomes.
- Staff treat clients better and attract new ones.
- Employees are more likely to remain with their organization.
- Employees are healthier and less likely to experience burnout.
COVID-19 has created many unknowns that have elevated stress and anxiety, and shifted most thinking into “what if scenarios” that can lead to rabbit holes of despair for staff. During times like this, behavioral science teaches us that humans desire transparency, guidance and help making sense out of what is happening.
Working remotely may continue to be true for some areas, returning to the office may also be a scenario. Whichever is the case for you as a manager, the work of employee engagement continues.
Recent Gallup research from June 2020 found a drop in employee engagement after having shown a surprising increase in May. The uncertain and volatile environment is taking a toll on employers and employees. Employee engagement requires the attention and intention of leaders who are also experiencing their own stress.
Tips for Leaders
The fundamentals of communication apply. Define and point to long-term goals, listen to and understand your stakeholders and their needs, and create openings for dialogue. Try to tailor your communication to the stage of the crisis and to what people need most.
To know what they need, just ask them.Ways to ask:
- Schedule unstructured time: 15 to 30 minutes at the end of a meeting.
- Run a quick pulse survey, a simple question: How are you feeling? Include a comments box for elaboration.
- Invite input regarding big decisions: When possible, include people in the process and offer options.
- Solicit questions: Give employees a chance to submit questions in advance (anonymously is ideal) when holding a virtual staff meeting to address questions.
Given the complex and ambiguous situations we find ourselves in, clarity is essential. If leaders and managers are unclear in communicating about matters, such as plans moving forward or how the organization is responding to internal or external stressors, then it is highly unlikely that their direct reports will have clarity on these concerns.
Clarity is crucial, as more engaged leaders have more engaged managers, who then have more engaged employees.
Adapt to what’s next as conditions change and build your employee change management capability. Build scenarios of your workforce needs in real time and make plans to operate at 35 percent and 50 percent of in-person capacity for an extended period.
Embrace and evolve new ways of working that make sense for your workplace. You may need to let go of how you have always done things to adopt new strategies and technologies. Your staff will be watching how you are embracing change as they try to manage it themselves.
Sensitivity to the reality and variety of situations staff find themselves in is important and challenging. As you lead, keep in mind that crisis and trauma shut down parts of the brain and make it harder to process all of what is going on.
Lead with empathy and demonstrate an understanding that although all employees have experienced this crisis, they do not all experience it the same way (i.e., same storm, different boat). Employees who are re-acclimating to the workplace will bring a variety of responses.
Tips to share with employees returning to the office:
- Create new routines at work.
- Boundaries have been blurred while working from home. Reset boundaries to not burn out.
- If seeing something of concern, encourage staff to say something.
- Take breaks and get fresh air when possible.
- Celebrate new milestones.
- Practice gratitude as a team.
- Remember you will experience ups and downs.
You can learn more about how to boost employee engagement during the ongoing pandemic with the following resources:
- Sand Creek EAP, administrator of MCIT’s Employee Assistance Program: Call 1.800.550.MCIT (6248) for free management/supervisor consultation as you work through your plans and communication during this difficult time.
- “Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life” by Susan David, PhD
- National Institutes of Mental Health website
- Free self-assessments offered by University of California Los Angeles School of Medicine
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Employees: How to Cope with Job Stress and Build Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic
- Harvard Business Review, Leading Through a Pandemic