The biggest worry of many HR departments in the context of the corporate work is employee disengagement. Is this challenge new? Is attributable to the current surge of remote work?
No, good HR managers and corporate executives are tackling this issue for a long time now. But the current multidimensional disruption of the way we used to work employee engagement might be the single most important advantage to creating a great business with better retention, better results on the books and a comparative advantage over the competitors.
As we had faced the COVID pandemic in 2020, the employee engagement actually [and somewhat unexpectedly to all who thought the only way to engage workers is to watch them work] went up:
- For many, the long awaited and craved home office was now reality. The desire to show that it works increased the motivation and engagement.
- Initial willingness and necessity to engage in communication between the colleagues in order to to stay up to the things surged the motivation and the feeling of connectedness in the hardship brought the team closer together with the help of outstanding technological possibilities.
- In remote settings, especially initially, people tend to actually work more as they want to create a visible output by the end of the day.
But as more time passed the fatigue and frustration has added in many by being stuck in the unsustainable situation.
- Feeling disconnected – technology can’t compensate it all.
- Lack of boundaries between the work and non-work and mental discomfort of the need to always “be on”.
- Insecurities on the side of the employees – is my work good enough? Is it visible enough to secure a promotion? Will I be able to keep my job?
- Insecurities on the side of the managers: do people actually work from home? Are they giving their best? Do they know what to do? Are the tasks clear and yet challenging enough?
- Difficulty to keep the culture, the team spirit and to share the tacit knowledge, as there is no watercooler on zoom.
- Single people worry about [not] being able to be meeting people and building social connections organically
- older staff were less keen on coming in at all.
So, where can organisations start these days do to increase employee engagement?
- Rethink the purpose. The first quick win from the organisation’s perspective would be to invest into own branding. Not a slogan on a marketing poster, but a cause, clear as crystal, understandable at all levels of organisation. Why are we here? How are we together contributing to the world being a better place? If employees are being able to connect with the organisation’s purpose on the level of personal values and emotions, they will be engaged, proud and motivated. This engagement will result in greater retainment of talent, better relationship with customers and other stakeholders, better understanding of the customers’ needs and further development of the products or services by continuous serving the organisational purpose. A positive virtuous circle. Easy enough? Not necessarily, but definitely worth the effort. Which attributes should a corporate identity have? It should be noble, clear and simple, believable and relevant.
- Have a clarity of strategic direction. Research suggests that strategic clarity accounts for 30% of the difference between high and low performing organisations.
- Strive for effectiveness of communication. Top-down approach and townhall management presentations were yesterday. If you want to engage your staff today and tomorrow, make sure to create a dialogue. Employees are more likely to believe what leaders say when they have a chance to contribute, co-create and exchange the arguments among their peers.
- Ensure consistency of implementation. Once your people have identified themselves with the organisational purpose, it is important to follow along. Consistent should by no means mean rigid. Flexibility and adaptability are as important as the direction itself. Consistency is essential for trust and here comes again the skill and science of effective corporate communication.
- Personal public commitment of the leaders toward the organisational purpose. Lead by example. Believe in what you do. Again, this makes the people trust you, trust the purpose and the strategy.
- Psychological safety. This is the only way in which employees can bring their whole true self to work. Make no place for blame in your corporate culture, but replace it with curiosity, learning opportunities and healthy conflict resolution.
- Promote peer collaboration. Strengthen the links between employees regardless of their location. People in strong teams feel happier, more engaged and more motivated.
- Ensure possibility for personal growth at all levels. We don’t want go to work just for money any more. We don’t go to work for just the quality of living, these are necessary, but not sufficient conditions to commit to work. But to be truly engaged, we need to have the feeling of achievement, expanding beyond our own borders and becoming better in our role and learn continuously. It is the responsibility of the leader to make sure his employees succeed. Helping them to set challenging yet achievable goals, giving feedback, appreciation, and coaching should be on every manager’s agenda. Employees want to see how their work contributes to larger corporate objectives.
Many organisational leaders and HR professionals find it harder to engage remotely. The key is here the new approach, leveraged on technology and flexibility, trust, growth mindset and commitment to the purpose and to the employees. The key is to understand, that employee engagement in the flexible, blended and virtually working organisation is not an inferior version of engagement strategies in the office, but a totally different discipline.