Will You Survive the New Age of Employee Engagement?

Will You Survive the New Age of Employee Engagement?

If we learn anything from this pandemic it is a lesson on what we can live without. Certainly not by choice, normal aspects of our daily lives have been removed. An evening at a movie theater, a fun meal with friends at a crowded restaurant, gathering with our colleagues around a conference table for a productive brainstorming session… these activities and so many others are no longer a part of our routine. And, if you’re like me, you miss them.

In truth, however, we haven’t lost all these and countless other regularities we used to do; we just found new ways to do them.

We discovered alternatives. Movie lovers stream the newest releases. Meals and happy hours occur on zoom. Business meetings take place using web cams with everyone at home. We are still able to do everything we used to… just differently. All it requires is flexibility.

Not only does agility keep us alive physically; it also helps our personal and professional relationships survive.

At times like these, some changes require sacrifice. You don’t have to look further than the national unemployment rates to see evidence of this. COVID-19 has impacted every part of our lives, including our businesses — many of which laid off or furloughed large parts of their workforce.

Those who remain with your company are experiencing what we all are. Worry, anxiety, and uncertainty are common threads uniting us all. But, our global experience with the coronavirus is not cookie-cutter. Some individuals are fighting the virus itself. Others worry for their elderly loved ones, near or far. Many serve as their children’s teachers and homeschool while balancing their jobs.

During this time, the strength required of each of us is exorbitant. For this reason, making sure you have an effective and active employee engagement program is vital.

It can be hard to think about employee engagement right now. You don’t interact with your colleagues like you used to. “Water cooler” conversations don’t really exist anymore. “Out of sight, out of mind” can prevail. Also, with the focus we need to take care of our own families (not to mention ourselves), sharing that attention with employees and coworkers may seem too much.

That’s exactly why you should do it.

The pandemic requires us to give up our previous ways of doing things, and it has required businesses to release valuable workers. You don’t want your colleagues who remain to leave by choice. Yes, the job market is flooded, and it could be a risky time for a person to choose to leave, but certain industries are still hiring. Despite all the bad news, your current workforce still has options. Even if they stay for now, they could plan their departure once the dust settles.

A study recently done by Willis Towers Watson shows 95% of employees believe their senior leaders have demonstrated a sincere interest in employee wellbeing and safety. A strong 85% have trust and confidence in the job being done by senior leaders to manage the business. How are these levels of trust so high? Because leaders have answered the call to care.

Just because we’re working long distance doesn’t mean we can’t think long term.

How you treat your teammates now will forever impact their relationship with your company, and, in turn, your company’s success.

They will always remember how they were treated by their leaders through the pandemic. An active employee engagement strategy during this season can make your team members “lifers” or it could send them packing. Like so many other ways we’ve adjusted, a new and effective employee engagement just requires your planning, creativity, and action.

Personalized Communication

Even as some communities phase into reopening, our sense of isolation can still remain. Making sure communication is consistent and personalized will carry us through and forward.

  • Reach out to your team members the way they prefer, not based on your preference. You know your teammates best. Your familiarity with them should provide you a good sense of how they like to communicate. Some like texts. Others appreciate a call. Facetime is another great and personal option. However you do it, they will remember it.
  • Ensure your team members know that the communication goes both ways. Make yourself available to them as much as possible. The physical office doors are no longer seen, but be sure the “open door policy” still is active. Let them know they can reach out to you in any number of channels.
  • Be proactive. Block time in your day to follow up individually with each team member. If your team is too massive, delegate it so that it tiers down through the entire organization. Don’t ask about projects or any work-related issues. Ask about them. How are they doing? How is their family? What are their concerns?
  • Don’t be afraid to go first. Expressing stress you may be experiencing during this time requires some vulnerability, but it also can be the key to letting your team member feel confident enough to share. No tears have to be shed or big secrets revealed. Just be genuine and real.

While we swim in the unknown, the truths about ourselves we offer to others serve as life preservers.

  • Listen. The interaction is not meant to be a therapy session. You’re not expected to offer wise counsel or advice. However, you should be there to listen. Your team member could be living in a home full of family or completely alone. In both cases, they undoubtedly would appreciate a different audience to hear what they have to say.

Resources

When contacting your team members, you don’t have to have all the answers to life problems, but you can provide resources that do.

Mental Health

I volunteer with the Trevor Project, an organization focused on suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth. In April of this year, as COVID-19 started showing its power, the Trevor Project partnered with Headspace, a platform promoting mindfulness through meditation, sleep, and physical activity. Together, they provided a free, year-long Headspace membership to everyone who works with the philanthropy. Fulling realizing all that individuals are experiencing at this time, this is a remarkable, proactive, and positive contribution into the lives of those who serve the cause.

Apps like Headspace and Calm have valuable content, especially at a time when mental health needs to be a top priority. Your company may not have the means to provide everyone a year-long membership, but you can remind people that these sites exist. These platforms and others also have free material that could be very helpful for mental and emotional support.

Physical Health

Because it’s all interconnected, promoting physical health to your team is important as well. In a recent study done through the Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health shows that for each four-hour block of activity per week, an individual could decrease the odds of a new depression episode by 17 percent. Additionally, a 15-minute run or an hour-long brisk walk reduced the odds of becoming depressed by 26 percent.

You don’t have to turn into Jane Fonda and lead an aerobics class once a day, but you can share online resources for physical activity. Many gyms offer free workouts through their websites or social media channels like Facebook and Instagram. Orange Theory and Planet Fitness are among those providing guidance through free workouts customized to be done at home. Several individual trainers and yoga instructors provide similar and free online tutorials. The wonderful thing is you are not limited to a nearby resource. Through these online posts, your options span the globe.

Personal Development

As the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Even as you provide these resources for your team, it is up to them to use. In fact, recent studies show that higher levels of employee engagement do not depend on your greatness as a manager but more on the mindset of the employees.

In a study of 11,308 employees conducted by Leadership IQ, employee engagement was higher for those team members who individually displayed characteristics like stronger optimism, resilience, assertiveness, and proactivity. According to the research, this “Self-Engagement” is key to more effective and connected employee engagement. An example is seen in the R2 measurement of assertiveness, showing engagement 7% higher than focusing on teamwork alone.

SOURCE: Leadership IQ, a Mark Murphy Company

Perhaps more than ever, this time allows fertile soil for tremendous personal growth.

To note, it’s not choosing one over another; it’s about choosing both. Knowing these characteristics enhance employee engagement, you still need to proactively fill the role of a positive and proactive leader. At the same time, find ways to cultivate self-engaging traits in your team members.

In the past, your organization may have said it promotes a healthy work/life balance. Now it is time to show it.

Creativity

Let’s face it, turning on the news or scrolling through social media can bring you down these days. The number of COVID-19 cases is overwhelming. The death count is heartbreaking. The debates and arguments over next steps are draining. Any positive gesture is highly valued at this time.

Add a spoonful of sugar to your meetings and elements of fun. Choose themes for your meetings like some of the following:

  1. Fun Attire. Consider what folks might have at home and shake up the meeting with a different dress code, like with crazy hats, favorite sports team colors or jersey, or Hawaiian shirts.
  2. Vacation Time. Have employees pick their favorite vacation spot as their virtual background and give them a moment to talk about their trip there.
  3. Bring Your Child To Work Day. If they haven’t crashed a meeting yet, invite your team members to introduce their children, be they human or four-legged. They don’t have to stay the whole meeting, but it gives an idea of the life your colleagues live off-screen.
  4. Favorite Holiday. Ask your employees to choose clothes and a virtual background that represents their favorite holiday.

In addition to these, Zoom provides more great ideas.

Outside of actual business meetings, consider facilitating social gatherings for your team members.

  1. Offer virtual happy hours.
  2. Find a cooking instructor and invite your employees to take an online cooking class; pay for and ship the ingredients to them in advance. The same structure could be applied to an online wine-tasting class, led by a sommelier. Send participants the wines ahead of time.
  3. Schedule a yoga instructor to lead an online yoga class just for your team.
  4. Set up an employee book club. If your budget allows, consider buying and shipping the books to the participants. This could also be a great opportunity to provide books that cultivate those self-engaging traits discussed earlier.

Also consider ways you can contribute to the lives of their families.

  1. Find out the family’s favorite local restaurant and arrange an evening for a meal to be delivered to their home.
  2. Mail them a gift card and a popcorn package so they can buy a newly released movie on Amazon Prime.
  3. Send them personalized face masks featuring things that you know about them like their favorite movie, sports team, or singer.
  4. Have an activity care packaged delivered with puzzles and board games for their family to play.

None of this “just happens.” You need a plan. If you don’t have the bandwidth to design one, ask someone on your team to put together an employee engagement strategy. Communications and touch points need to be scheduled. A calendar needs to be in place (allowing for flexibility, of course). We don’t know how long this will go on, so have the plan reach months into the future.

Your team members will thank you for it, either verbally or through their loyalty. Now is the time to show you care.

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