The year 2020 began like most other years for HR departments at organizations around the world. There were plans for new technology, innovative recruitment methods, and suggestions on improving the employee experience. These were alongside the usual hiring, appraisal, and other plans. Who in their right minds could have foreseen the monkey wrench in the works that was to be COVID-19?
Within just a few weeks, entire offices shut down; complete workforces moved online, moved home (on leave or furlough), or moved out (layoffs); and those who could thank their lucky stars to have their jobs, moved to remote work or work from home – the workplace, as we knew it, all but ceased to exist. New regulatory measures exerted their own pressure, adding to the rapidly- and massively-changed (and changing!) priorities for CHROs.
An aspect that has come into sharp focus these days is employee engagement. Part of HR efforts toward employee wellbeing, it is especially critical, given the rising stress levels as employees worry about the pandemic and its effects. Some are working longer hours or hazardous (to health) jobs, all while attempting a dicey balance between work and home responsibilities.
What is employee engagement, then? In simple terms, it connotes how connected with and committed to the organization an employee is. Critical to securing and sustaining a competitive advantage, it boosts value for stakeholders, growth, and employee retention for the organization, and loyalty from customers.
How does it help?
HR has been striving to keep employee engagement up… and it appears to have worked. A Kincentric survey indicated employee engagement had touched an all-time high in March 2020 – at 68 percent. This, though, could come under significant strain due to the pandemic.
In the US, for instance, pre-pandemic, employee engagement seemed to have settled down. Come COVID-19, and massive fluctuations ensued. Early May saw a figure of 38 percent, falling to 31 in early June with social unrest, up to 40 by mid-July, and to 36 percent toward end-September. The proportion of actively-disengaged workers stood at 13 percent, with engaged-to-actively-disengaged workers at a ratio of 2.8:1 over the same period.
Gallup data for US workers shows a more comprehensive picture:
Interestingly, drops in engagement have been more severe for managers than for other employee categories. The former set the tone for engaging the latter, affecting 70 percent of team engagement variance, and play the most active role in this area. September saw 41 percent of employees giving the thumbs-up to managerial engagement efforts; this, though, came at the cost of higher burnout for managers.
All of this underscores the need to pay attention to factors affecting employee engagement. Along with productivity on the job, engagement is affected by support from a supervisor; sharing of information, goals, and a vision; high trust; and strong communication. Respect and value are top concerns of employees, who desire a fair hearing for their ideas and meaning in their work.
Note that engagement is different from job satisfaction. Engaged employees adapt well and show proactiveness and persistence, going beyond their job descriptions. As against their sense of urgency and focus on their work approach, satisfied employees are content and gratified. Managers control most factors determining engagement, while the organization does the same for satisfaction.
It is not hard to spot disengaged employees, who could:
Given how the world of work is slowly striving to emerge from the pandemic cloud, employee engagement becomes ever more important in the second half of the year. Employees and their organizations both are adapting – or have adapted – to new work styles and methods, with organizations needing to modify their communication, wellbeing, and pretty much all else. The results are visible, with a 21-point improvement in communication, 6 in care from organizations, and 5 in that from managers. What remains important is to stay adaptable and agile, both always important but even more so due to COVID-19.
What are the lessons for CHROs from this crisis? They need to intensify their engagement efforts.
In terms of specific measures,
The last word…
Normal is no more normal, and the impact will not go away anytime soon. New behaviors must be put in place, new lessons need learning, and much more is to be done to engage the workforce if organizations are to survive, recover, and grow. More than most other measures, this is critical to thrive!