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By Jermaine Nairne

Covid-19 has caused organisations the world over to literally stop and rethink how to effectively keep employees engaged during this time. Now more than ever, employee engagement has become an imperative to keep businesses afloat. When the dust settles the organisations that remain the strongest will be those that have been culturally agile and those that embrace the inevitable changes that are occurring daily.

It, therefore, means that the number one asset in an organisation — its employees — must be sufficiently empowered to weather this crisis. This will result in better performance, which will lead to greater output and, ultimately, greater profitability.

But what is this employee engagement? It is not having a party or fun day at which employees gather. According to Jim Clifton and Jim Harter (2019), in their book It’s The Manager, employee engagement is the extent to which employees are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their workplace. It has been found to be able to predict important organisational performance outcomes. This, therefore, means that employee engagement transcends one-off events and touches on areas such as employee safety and health; rewards and recognition; company policies, which drive the culture; effective internal communication; learning and development; compensation and benefits, and so much more.

In short, the daily employee experience will shape their values, beliefs and attitudes toward the workplace, which directly impacts how they operate; hence, having a direct impact on the organisation’s overall performance.

When employees are engaged, their discretionary effort is increased; this is an intangible benefit that no organisation can pay for, unless, of course, it comes in the form of authentically investing in employees holistically. Regardless of the sector, organisations must now grapple with low staff morale, heightened anxiety; and, yes, the undesirable reality of staff cuts.

In this process, there is a delicate balance of keeping the organisation afloat and a need to employ efficient and innovative ways to maintain business performance. COVID-19 has presented new challenges to organisations in relation to business continuity amid the loss of revenue through diminishing uptake of products and services. In this time, businesses are faced with the reality of a decrease in the staff complement within the physical office space, reduced face to face interaction, with both clients and employees, the inability to meet in person for meetings, team building, et cetera. These require a recalibration of business strategy and outlook. How organisations handle this balancing act will either result in their survival, or their ultimate demise.

After all, following Covid-19 there will still be a need for top talent and a return to a more robust staff complement to meet the demands of a booming economy. Where plans were in train to introduce policies to address work from home arrangements; for example, these have been accelerated, given that this has become the new normal. Employees must now be engaged both physically and virtually and must be empowered to navigate the digital landscape with the multiple channels that are available for interface.

New accountability measures are now necessary to ensure that targets are met, which means that people managers are being forced to experience a paradigm shift in how team members are held to account. It is important that we dispense with the thinking of equating number of hours in the office with productivity.

We must now also engage employees through greater focus on messaging and a level of deliberateness that may not have existed before and implement initiatives around which they can coalesce, and which showcase their new realities; all in an attempt to maintain cohesion within the organisation’s landscape. Employers must now view Covid-19 as an opportunity, rather than solely a crisis; after all, we should never let a crisis go to waste.

 “Pay attention to how companies treat their employees in this time. It speaks volumes to their core ethics” – Anonymous.

The above quote rings ever so true now that we are in uncharted waters.

I recently saw a ‘meme of the future’ on social media that depicts a recruit being interviewed in the year 2040, and she asks the interviewer how the company treated employees during the Covid-19 outbreak of 2019/2020. Although this is laughable at first glance, companies must come to the sobering reality that after this, in order to attract and retain the best talent in the market, they must demonstrate that they have a culture of care, in which employees are able to thrive and their well-being optimised.

It means, therefore, that employee engagement cannot be left to chance, but, instead, must be done in a deliberate way to safeguard organisational culture, part of which is efficiency with optimal performance. All areas of engagement must be examined to see how, amid this crisis, they can be enriched. A central part of this engagement process is ensuring that the experience that is provided to the employee is one that shapes his/her values and beliefs in a positive way, which causes them to go over and above what is required of them.

It means, then, that as a matter of long-term survival there are some crucial questions that employees are asking:

1) Does my organisation provide an employee experience that demonstrates that they care during this time?

2) Is my organisation being sufficiently agile with its policies to cater to my needs during this time?

3) Is my organisation communicating with me in a way that reassures me, even while outlining realities that I may deem undesirable?

4) Is my well-being safeguarded?

5) As an essential worker who is at greater risk because I have to be in the office, am I recognised for my efforts?

These are simple questions that will occupy the minds of employees when options are placed before them in the future, the answers to which, will have profound effects on an organisation’s ability to retain best-in-class talent.

Interestingly, Clifton and Harter assert that an engaged employee is more likely to stay with an organisation that offers less remuneration than to accept an offer for more pay elsewhere, because they have greater loyalty and commitment to it. What does this mean for decision-makers? They must maintain a long-term vision of talent management and retention.

The conversation continues…stay engaged. (Jamaica Gleaner)

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