Peter Wallace, Managing Director of HR Solutions at Capita, shares his thoughts on employee engagement during the pandemic and beyond.
We’re about to see the biggest financial and professional shake-up since the 2008 financial crisis, so how can organisations adapt to this new world? The first half of 2021 is already turbulent, but what happens next?
People have been performing under incredible pressure for the past 12 months and, as the economic environment starts to improve, we’re likely to see a “talent swap”. Those organisations that haven’t worked on employee experience face a real risk of mass resignations. Last year was the time to concentrate on survival; now’s the time to put your efforts into building a sustainable future through proactive employee engagement.
The Covid-19 pandemic has transformed the labour landscape fundamentally. The idea that you need to recruit locally, set up regional offices and have people at their desks from nine to five has been debunked by the events of the past year.
Sixty per cent of adults reported a deterioration in their mental health during the first lockdown1, and a quarter expected better support from their employers than they received2. How organisations have treated their employees may mean the difference between people choosing to stay in their job and deciding to cut their losses and resign.
So, what can you do to stop your talent walking out of the door as soon as it’s safe to do so? Here are five practical actions that you can take today.
Work out how your people are feeling
Around two thirds of people working from home cited ‘poor morale and wellbeing’ and ‘communication and collaboration’ as their biggest concerns3. The importance of communication has been a key theme of the pandemic, but what we’ve found is that listening to employees is far more important than just transmitting information4. You can’t manage what you don’t measure, and it’s vital that you understand the state of employee morale throughout your organisation. What does your feedback loop look like? If it’s organised into silos or hierarchies, you could be in trouble. If you’re relying on an annual employee survey, you definitely have a problem.
Take a look at the feedback you have – you may have access to far more than you realise. Make sure you’re listening to everyone throughout the organisation and at every level, not just relying on reports from your management teams. There are plenty of digital tools that enable you to conduct quick pulse surveys – SurveyMonkey, Teams, Yammer and Slack are good ones to start with. At the bottom of your emails, offer recipients a choice of two instant-response tick-boxes: “How are you doing? Okay / Not great.” An ingenious bit of wearable tech called the Moodbeam offers people a blue button (for ‘feeling down’) and a yellow button (‘feeling happy’) to press, giving their manager real-time feedback on how they feel5.
Act on that information
If you find that people are struggling – and you will – there are all kinds of interventions that you can put in place.
Corporate-wide support networks like employee assistance schemes or financial and legal counselling helplines are great, but they’re large-scale projects that take time to set up. At Capita we quickly ramped up mental health wellbeing sessions in which people could discuss their emotional state and support each other. We saw a flood of comments in the office chat meetings from people saying that, although they weren't okay, just having a forum in which to offload helped enormously.
Equip your management cohort
This year, authenticity6 and empathy7 have emerged as critical characteristics for effective leadership in a crisis.
Are you equipping your managers to be more in tune with this post-Covid-19 management style? Authenticity doesn't come from a corporate-led agenda, it comes from a genuine interest among your management community – and most importantly you as a leader. Find your own stability anchor before you support others. Your managers need to deliver support and guidance more than ever – so focus more on giving them coaching skills, critical incident learning and even a safe space to vent.
Use technology for good, not evil
The pandemic is providing the ultimate stress-test of the modern workplace’s capacity to be flexible. The workplace passed, largely thanks to technology that makes working from home possible, but flexibility has brought new burdens. Home-working has eliminated the commute from people’s lives, but the added pressures of home-schooling and the way technology makes us constantly available is blurring the boundaries between work and home life. Some companies have even been accused of surveilling their employees, using digital monitoring software that records every keystroke to ensure that they are at their desks and working when expected8.
Use technology to lighten the load on employees, not add to it. If a task is repetitive, it can almost always be automated. If processes and systems are unconnected, integrate them so that people can spend their precious time and effort on more important things. Joining up systems through robotics can relieve people of a lot of manual work and free them up to concentrate on tasks that really add value. Digital assistants, chatbots, machine learning and other AI technology can answer queries, complete automated tasks and take the “grit” out of day-to-day jobs.
Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate
If you’ve implemented Zoom or Teams in your organisation, does everyone know how to use it? Make sure your employees are equipped with the tools they need and the know-how to get the most out of them. No-one has solved the cry of “you’re on mute” but there are great ways to increase collaboration during online meetings.
Encourage managers and collaborators to create interactive sessions for remote meetings rather than simply broadcasting information at people. It's exhausting listening to calls all day long but, if you're contributing, it’s a far more dynamic experience. Teach your people how to deliver a better message using digital whiteboards or regular in session polls, for example, for more collaborative working. Even encouraging reactions during the session can keep people engaged.
Start small. It’s surprising how much even simple interventions can affect the lives of people throughout your organisation. Be honest with your employees, listen at least as much as you speak, and make sure that everyone is included in your communication loop. Whatever you do, act now but plan for the future.