How to engage our way out of a crisis

It’s probably fair to say we thought we’d be out of this by now. But here we are in February 2021 and we’re still working on our kitchen tables, coping with Zoom (cat placeholders optional), and putting in longer hours. Stress and burnout are everyday talking points. 

Is this the time for another post on employee engagement? Well, it depends on your outlook. 

You either have a long to-do list and you’re thinking 'it’s the last thing I have the time for' or, you have a long to-do list and realise that you need engaged and productive people to make that list get done.

If you are in the second camp - read on. I think I might have a plan.

A little thanks can go a long way

The pandemic has seen good and bad examples of how organisations are treating their people. As I write, the CEO of KPMG has just resigned after telling his consultants to "stop moaning" about the impact of the pandemic and lockdown on people's lives, and to stop "playing the victim card”. What’s more, he made that remark in an online meeting with 500 staff members. He later apologised - but the damage was done.

Leaders need to show a bit of empathy in a crisis, be visible and show they know what their people are going through - or at least say a simple thank you. People are overworked, anxious about job security but they keep going. Some leaders have burnt their bridges - but if you are one of those who have been meaning to communicate some thanks. Do it - and ask your team leaders to do the same.

Give support where it’s needed

We can all look out for each other. Last week saw a campaign called ‘Time to Talk’ with a simple objective - that a small conversation with a trusted person can have a big impact on our mental health. A simple ‘How are you?’ can be incredibly powerful in helping others realise there’s someone to listen. 

Line managers, in particular, play an important role in supporting their teams and fostering a greater sense of mental wellbeing. In uncertain times we may not always have the answers or the certainty people want to hear - but we can show we care.

Re-building a sense of belonging and purpose

I’ve always said the greatest engagement comes from people who feel a personal sense of belonging, a sense of being a part of something special - to feel that their part matters in the bigger picture. When you’ve been staring at your kitchen wall for a week or home schooling the kids and catching up with work in the evening, it’s easy to feel less connected, less a part of somewhere - or something - that you’ve not seen for months.

But, even in our current remote world of work, there are things you can still do to re-engage. If your purpose hasn’t changed, re-focus on that - it’s what may well have attracted people to you in the first place. If the pandemic has caused your business to pivot in strategy, share where you are heading and emphasise how roles can still align to that new purpose. And, at a time of anxiety about what their organisations and roles may look like, involve your people in making decisions that affect them.

Give your employees a voice

Everyone wants to feel that they have a voice and their opinions matter. Especially during a crisis, and especially when they are feeling anxious. I find that leaders who take the time to encourage two-way communication not only increase engagement and belonging, but hear some pretty good ideas in the process. So, ask for feedback. At Pure Planet, where I’m the Part-time People Director, we’ve constantly asked our people “how can we make this better for you”.

Remain flexible - you can’t take it back

Finally, it’s flexible working that has got us all through this so far. OK, we didn’t have a choice but it has at least allowed many of us to fit our complicated lives and work around each other. So much so that flexibility will be a key criteria in both selecting a potential employer or deciding to stay. For sure options will open up when the pandemic passes. There’s really no going back to how things were before. 

If you are not planning for a hybrid organisation split between office and home - and involving your people in this - they may well be making other plans. As I mentioned in my last post on HR skills - retention will be a big challenge as people realise they can work for anyone from the comfort of their own home. So, it might as well be you.

In conclusion

Engaged people are how organisations are going to get through this. Employee engagement certainly works best when it feels like it’s embedded in the way things are done rather than be ‘HR’s thing’. Engaged people feel it from the inside - but that can only happen when the organisation genuinely connects, appreciates and shows they care. 

These tips are my personal reflections - I think any one of them will make a difference to your engagement levels. Done in combination, you’ll really notice a change. If you need my help or just want to connect to see what else I have to say - please get in touch.

Author: Richard Roberts
Posted on: Friday 19th February 2021

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