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Engaged employee at home

What does employee engagement look like in these challenging times?


Employee engagement may not be your top focus as a people professional right now, but adopting a few simple approaches to keep employees feeling valued, motivated and cared for will make all the difference in these uncertain times.

19th Mar 2020
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Over the last few weeks we’ve all faced unprecedented challenges and obstacles, being asked to quickly pull together plans to support our people and to support our businesses in these times of uncertainty. We’re all living day-to-day in the operational world, battling one challenge at a time, waiting for the next one to come our way so that we can again swoop in to help our people and businesses survive.

But for a moment I’d like to step away from the day-to-day and talk about employee engagement. For in a world where the employee experience has drastically changed, employee engagement continues to have an important role to play.

In my book “Build it: The rebel playbook for employee engagement” we define an engaged employee in three ways. And while I believe this definition still works, to help us all during these challenging times I’ve added a bit more detail as well as some things to keep in mind as you continue to focus on and drive employee engagement.

Recognition doesn’t have to cost anything, so don’t feel that since you may have to pinch the pennies you no longer can recognise one another. Remember, a simple thank you costs absolutely nothing!

1. An engaged employee understands and believes in the direction of the company

An engaged employee understands the company’s direction, their purpose and mission, and believes in how they’re getting there through their company values.

In this new world of work, we need to ensure that we are continuing to drive the business and engagement through our purpose, mission and values, not casting them aside, but using and interpreting them in different ways to face new challenges. 

Keep in mind...

Communication is critical

Communicating how your company is doing against your purpose and mission is critical in these times of uncertainty. It helps reduce fears and confusion, and at the same time, helps your employees understand how you’re continuing to drive your purpose and mission, which helps create some sense of stability. 

And if anything changes, which it most certainly will, communicating in an open and honest way is even more critical. For example, if you’re putting a hold on recruitment, explain why you’re doing this, how it will support the business, and what it will mean to them personally. Don’t leave it to employees to guess and interpret, for most of the time they won’t get it right.

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Continue to live your values

Your company values are what you’ve determined will help your employees and business succeed. So even in challenging times, it’s important to make sure that they remain prominent in how decisions are made and the behaviours that are expected in your leaders and your workforce.

There have been some lovely examples of how companies are living values such as care, integrity and respect in how they’ve adapted their people processes and policies. One example is Workday, who announced they would pay employees below the vice president level the equivalent of two weeks of pay as a cash bonus, another is Starbucks, who have extended their mental health benefits, and another is Walmart, who announced they would waive its attendance policy through the end of April. 

2. An engaged employee understands how their role contributes to the success of the company

An engaged employee clearly understands how they personally contribute to the company and how they help it succeed. This is even more important now with roles and processes changing as businesses operate in different ways.

Keep in mind...

Address how roles are changing

Face it, all if not most roles will change in some way in the short-term. It’s important to address this now, having managers discuss and agree these changes with their employees, helping them clearly understand their new role and their new expectations. And since our businesses will continue to face change, it’s important that these conversations happen on an ongoing basis.

An engaged employee will do what it takes to help the company succeed through not just hard work, but through innovative thoughts and ideas.

Continue with recognition

Recognition helps our employees feel appreciated and at the same time helps them understand how what they’ve done has helped the company succeed. So even in challenging times, recognition needs to continue as both your employees and business need it. And, as I always say, recognition doesn’t have to cost anything, so don’t feel that since you may have to pinch the pennies you no longer can recognise one another. Remember, a simple thank you costs absolutely nothing!

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3. An engaged employee genuinely wants the company to succeed

An engaged employee will do what it takes to help the company succeed through not just hard work, but through innovative thoughts and ideas. This is even more important now, for new ways of work and new ideas are what will help our companies survive in these challenging times. 

Keep in mind...

Focus on results

As many of our employees will be working from home, we need to encourage managers to clearly and openly agree and discuss milestones and results, stressing that these are how hard work is measured. This will not only keep everyone on track, but will add structure and remove some of the confusion and uncertainty which may pop up for many who are new to working (and managing) from home.

Share new ideas

Some of our people will easily come up with new ways of working, while others may struggle with this. We should encourage our teams to share new ideas, with us facilitating this throughout the organisation. Get everyone excited and open to sharing, maybe even having competitions for the best new ideas.

I hope this has helped you as you continue your engagement journey on this new and bumpy path that we’ve all been led to. Let’s continue to share and care, for our employees, for our businesses, and for one another in the HR profession. 


Replies (1)

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By Ps
25th Jun 2020 14:36

Interesting article. Employee engagement techniques have changed drastically in last few months in this time of crisis as most of the employees are working remotely. Here is an article which gives some more ideas about how to engage remote employees in a better way.

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