The world is in a period of flux while the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect economies and societies. However, there is an indication that UK organisations are adapting to new ways of operating and starting to recover what they lost during lockdown.
During times of crisis, organisations -understandably - knuckle down into 'survival mode' and focus on a narrow tunnel of priorities at the expense of other important elements. Employee engagement is one of those issues that can be overlooked, particularly when managing such severe issues as furloughing workers and employee safety.
There is evidence, though, to support the importance of employee engagement during periods of crisis and subsequent recovery. Akhmetshin et al published a paper called 'Employee Engagement Management Facilitates the Recovery from Crisis Situations' for a 2019 international conference on digital communications strategies (10.1109/COMSDS.2019.8709645), arguing that employees are a key resource in successfully getting through a crisis. The researchers also found that digital technologies play an increasingly large role in supporting organisations' communications strategies.
The Psychological Contract: The Importance of Staff Engagement
So why is employee engagement important during tough times? The way that companies engage with their employees has a huge impact on the psychological contract that exists between employees and employers. Breaches of that contract can result in a decrease in employee engagement and motivation.
When employees have to endure a lot of pressure, as they have done during the pandemic, they become scared, feel isolated and worry about their families. As organisations shift to a recovery phase, people's thoughts will shift to coping with the changes made to operational practices, hoping that what their employer has introduced is safe and wondering if everyone will keep their jobs in the future. The reason why employee engagement is so important at times like these is that it can help to settle these issues in the minds of the workforce.
The one element that affects the psychological contract more than anything else is communications. An article by the Local Government Association states that internal communications are vital during change, and should be owned by everyone. It also suggests that employees no longer wait patiently during times of transition for 'messages from on high'; they use their own internal networks to get information from those likely to know more and collaborate through social media.
Wouldn't it be better to capture those lines of communication through a user-friendly employee engagement app rather than having them occur outside the organisation's sphere of knowledge? It would also encourage the capture of employee engagement ideas, often on issues that managers may not have considered fully.
Employee Engagement Importance: The New Rules?
If the way that employees think about their work has changed, what does that mean for the effectiveness of current employee engagement strategies?
It may be time for organisations to go back to basics. Whenever there has been substantial change, organisations tend to adapt their tactics to achieve the same results in different ways. Engage For Success states that there are four key employees engagement priorities during periods of change: good communication; trust; transparency; and empowerment. These are all fundamental elements that feed into the psychological contract between the employee and employer. Employee engagement is important because it supports and grows the positive aspects of the employee-employer relationship.
Employee engagement initiatives need to be reviewed following transitions such as those caused by the pandemic. Some questions to ask include:
- Is the organisation really communicating with its employees regularly? Are its communications meaningful, rather than just platitudes?
- Is the organisation showing its trustworthiness by ensuring that employees feel safe while ways of working change around them?
- Is the organisation honest enough to say that it doesn't have an answer, but is working hard to find a solution? Does it show trust in its employees by asking them to solve problems alongside them?
- What is the impact of leadership on employee engagement during periods of change and recovery? Why is employee engagement important for organisations in their sector, and what can they do that is better?
Why Employee Engagement is Important During Change
There are a number of employee engagement best practices that can reinforce the psychological contract an organisation has with its employees during a period of recovery or change.
Focus on wellbeing
If employees are more worried, managers need to spend more time with their staff to give them information and reassurance. While face to face meetings are an issue, managers can do all of this virtually through the use of a flexible and adaptable employee engagement platform. An online welfare chat can be just as effective as a meeting held in the office.
Set the tone for the future
It is important to let employees know how the organisation is charting its course to recover from the crisis. Where employees are spread out over different locations, senior managers can use online messaging, videos and podcasts to keep employees informed. It is also important to find ways of inviting employees to participate in the organisation's new course - and how they can help.
Keep saying 'thank you'
Those two words can go a long way with staff. Whether they have been working from home or in their usual places of work, employees have endured a lot and adapted in ways that their employers probably didn't think would happen. Thanking employees and valuing them for their input are important during periods of change.
Don't forget the managers
Of course, managers also need support. According to a People Management article on staff wellbeing, organisations must help those line managers who are having difficult conversations with their teams and who are working constantly under pressure. Managers also need to have welfare chats to offload; they can only understand the question 'why is employee engagement important to us?' if they have the resilience and resources to implement the initiatives created by senior management to increase employee engagement.
Importance of Employee Engagement in Cost Reduction
Getting employee engagement wrong at any time, never mind during a period of recovery, is costly. Forbes reports that disengaged employees can cost organisations up to 34% of their annual salary. The importance of employee engagement in an organisation, implemented at strategic level, cannot be underestimated because it can have a dramatic effect on the financial wellbeing of a company.
Why is employee engagement so important during periods of transition? It protects resources, improves wellbeing and maintains resilience. But it also needs to be a two-way process. Understanding the priorities of employees during change is why an employee engagement survey is important. This allows organisations to tailor their activities in such a way that they minimise the risks of disengagement and maximise the effective use of all of their resources.