There are signs that we are finally starting to emerge from the pandemic. Not only did the pandemic create immense suffering around the world, it also presented a significant challenge to organizational leaders. Back in March and April of 2020, studies showed that employee engagement levels spiked to very high levels nationally. Then, starting in June 2020, the employee engagement levels started to tank and dropped below normal levels and have sustained there for several months.
Obviously organizational leaders did something right in March and April and then something has changed that is causing lower than normal engagement. So while we didn't choose for this to happen, what lessons can we learn (or not learn) about culture and engagement from the pandemic?
1. The secret to getting engagement is to engage. Back in March and April, we saw unprecedented efforts by many organizational leaders up and down the organizational charts to reach out to their employees and see how the are doing. Managers had meetings just to check on wellbeing. It turns out that caring for your employees will help them to care about your organization. 69% of supervisors admit that they are afraid to talk to their employees. Managers should be having frequent conversations with their direct reports just to check in and make sure they are doing well. This servant leadership is shown to help employees overcome outside stressors while at work, plus it builds trust on your team.
2. Communicate well. Again, back in March and April, we saw companies working very hard to clearly communicate the current situation and what they needed to do to respond to it. Team members checked in with each other to make sure work was getting done and supervisors implemented communication tools to help. We also saw that meetings became more dynamic and open because managers needed employees to help them solve the problems before them. Then, in the summer, organizations started going back to business as usual. We saw organizations stop the deliberate communication and some feel into old habits of meetings that are more in the "lecture / listen" format. Organizational leaders should open up 2-way communication with their teams to work to solve problems. Oh, and if your meetings are boring, you aren't doing it right. Don't stop boring meetings, make them dynamic and interactive.
3. Set a vision for what winning looks like. In March and April, organizational leaders did a pretty good job of communicating the current situation to staff and letting them know what they needed to do to help the company. Again, in the summer, this practice declined as people settled into a new normal. Too many organizational leaders are buying into the idea of uncertainty and they aren't clearly communicating key performance indicators and needed results to employees. Companies should strive to create a "line of sight" for each employee between what they do on day to day basis and how it impacts the organization.
Many of these lessons learned (or not learned) during the pandemic are actually best practices that always help create a strong culture with high levels of employee engagement. The pandemic just gave us a moment to prove how impactful these practices can be on a team.
If you are looking to accelerate out of the pandemic, you will need to bring your team along with you.