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Creating and Maintaining Engagement in the Face of Adversity

One of the top challenges for employers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic is finding new ways to engage their employees.


Employee engagement is considered a key component of any organization’s overall employee value proposition but, like many things, it became more difficult over the past five to six months when work became increasingly remote.

Jeff Cates, CEO at Achievers, an employee recognition and engagement platform, said workforce engagement was already a problem for global businesses before the pandemic. An Achievers’ survey released before the pandemic found that just 18% of employees considered themselves engaged in their job and 64% were on the fence about leaving their company the next year because they didn’t feel engaged at work. 

“The pandemic exacerbated this issue, forcing global workforces to go remote without the proper structure in place to ensure employees felt connected and engaged with their job outside of the office,” Cates said. “Employers were forced to create new strategies on the fly that supported the sudden move to virtual communication and collaboration and the drastic shift in each employee's work environment.”

The dynamism of the pandemic is now requiring some organizations to juggle both the safety of their workers reentering the workplace while also trying to establish a quality employee experience. Some employees fall in between, being permitted to reenter the office, but hesitant to do so because they’re unsure if it’s truly safe. This poses new obstacles for inter-office communication and collaboration, especially for employees who may be managed by someone in a different region and work environment.

Cates said one way for organizations to combat this is by improving their recognition programs.

“It’s important now, more than ever, that businesses individually recognize employees for their success and stewardship of company values,” Cates said. “Employee recognition plays a large role in employee retention and engagement, but also has a major impact on business productivity and innovation. Even the smallest recognition or kudos can help improve employee performance.”

To wit, Achievers’ survey found that 90% of employees said they work harder after they’ve received recognition. The same survey found that recognition was one of the top three things employees needed to stay in their current job, along with compensation and career advancement opportunities. Cates noted that this goes beyond just making employees feel appreciated, as an effective recognition program also differentiates an organization’s culture from others in the marketplace.

“In a time of uncertainty, recognition can help stabilize employees, make them feel good about their work and increase engagement,” Cates said. “Engaged employees are more likely to contribute new ideas to meetings, share learnings with colleagues and continue spreading positive feelings and kudos to others.”

Another variable in the employee experience that has been enhanced by the pandemic is work flexibility. Whether it’s working parents who need to balance childcare needs with work needs, an employee with family health concerns or just an employee who feels burnout and needs a mental health break, providing employees with flexible schedules and time off has emerged as an incredibly significant part of the employee value proposition in the past six months.

“We need to empower employees to create and control their schedules based on the needs of their lives and not expect them to overextend themselves in the process,” Cates said.

There are a myriad of considerations for employers as they decide to push forward on the path of resilience, but investing in your company’s culture should be one of the top priorities for any business, Cates said.

“While the way we communicate and work will continue to change, your company culture guides how your workforce reacts and adapts to new situations,” Cates said. “This is not just about defining company culture; it’s about committing to and practicing the ideals and values of your culture each day. The best way to nurture this culture is by continuously listening to employees to better understand the impact of workplace values and keep a pulse on workplace culture, both physical and virtual. Even when a person is isolated and working remotely, an emphasis on culture and listening can help them feel part of a community.”

About the Author

Brett Christie Bio Image

Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.

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