Will Coronavirus reshape how we measure employee engagement after lockdown?
Pre-Coronavirus, employer interest in employee engagement boiled down to three things, how enthusiastic people feel about doing a good job, whether they feel committed to their employer, and the extra effort they were prepared to put in.
Data was collected and analysed. The highly engaged were rewarded, and the disengaged were fretted over. Driven, if we are honest, largely by the desire to improve commercial results.
In the current context this approach feels crass. When we come out the other side, organisations won’t be judged on commercial results during this period, but how well they looked after and supported their people.
Should employers stop measuring employee engagement during lockdown?
Emphatically no, but they must review what they focus on and measure what matters during this period.
The dominant factor that will determine an individual’s engagement during lockdown is their mental state. Unless an employee is in a good place mentally, performance will inevitably be impaired. It makes sense then that measuring mental health should be every line manager’s primary concern.
Whatever KPIs your organisation previously had in place, they assume that, all things being equal, an employee works in a relatively stable work environment. Today, half the workforce that employers need to keep engaged are furloughed. This is while key workers work round the clock to service customer needs and keep the business afloat.
Measures that signified positive or negative engagement need reinterpreting in the current context. High levels of absence, particularly among key and front line workers working at their workplace, are exposed to higher risk of infection and may need to self-isolate. High absence levels are likely to signify a responsible and sensible approach to stopping the spread of the pandemic. By contrast, homeworking colleagues who appear on the surface to be going the extra mile, emailing from dusk till dawn, could be fearful of losing their jobs. Anxiety that could result in burnout, or in extreme cases, have much worse consequences.
What measures of employee engagement matter during a crisis?
Rather than talk about measurement, it’s probably more helpful for line managers to think about maintaining a hawk like vigilance over employee wellbeing. Many employers that we’ve been speaking with are using some or all of the following surveillance methods.
- Daily pulse checks
During turbulent times your employees will be more susceptible to even the smallest change in their home or work environment. I think we’ve all experienced the mood swings that upsetting or unclear news can bring. Forget quarterly or even monthly mental health checks, line managers need to measure the mental wellbeing of their people on a daily basis. Ask staff to rate their mood on a numerical, sliding scale. Respond immediately to those at high risk of harm. Those experiencing a dip in mood can be paired with high scorers to support their resilience. Early intervention will prevent problems escalating into larger, less easy to manage concerns.
Observe when and why emails are sent
Working parents may be stretching their day to accommodate childcare or home schooling but beware individuals that appear always on. They will burn out. Role model sensible behaviour and give employees explicit permission to switch off their minds and mobile devices at the end of the working day. This is especially true for key workers keeping the business afloat while colleagues are furloughed. Yes, it is important to praise them for going the extra mile but be careful not to unintentionally give the impression that the pace they are working at is sustainable or expected. Praise too, those that have the courage to say when they are struggling or at capacity.
Clear is kind
Business is anything but usual at the moment. Don’t leave employees to fret about whether what they are doing is enough. It’s unreasonable to expect the same levels of productivity when you are working from home with children, or in a flat share, working off a laptop on your bed. Agree with each team member what reasonable looks like and use that to gauge whether they are delivering a fair day’s work.
How effectively does the team support each other?
Now more than ever, work can only be achieved through team effort. Make sure every member understands the circumstances in which each other is working. Get them to contract how and when each other will work. Spot when members show they are supporting each other and celebrate to encourage repeat behaviour.
Line managers need to pivot what they focus on, not just to effectively manage staff through this period but because many of these adjustments will continue after lockdown.
What lessons can we take into the “new normal?”
Businesses and HR teams are starting to plan for the day when lockdown is lifted. While we don’t have a crystal ball, we don’t think that will mean a return to the workplace for everyone. To avoid a second spike in infection rates, social distancing measures will remain in place, and working from home, and cohort-ing, working in smaller, tight, teams, will continue to be necessary to support this.
Drawing on past pandemics the World Health Authority predicts that poor mental health and trauma will continue well after lockdown is lifted. Vigilance of employee wellbeing, mind, body and wallet, will become more, not less important.
Furloughed staff will need to be re-onboarded and made to feel valued again. Employers that don’t invest time doing this are likely to lose good staff to competitors. Consider whether it is possible to increase reward to make up for lost earnings and incentivise desirable work behaviour.
Building organisational resilience has become a priority for employers. Key to this, will be learning new ways to engage our people. Nothing learned during this period will be lost.