Helping Your People Stay Engaged During Times of Distress
By now we’re all pretty familiar with the myriad ways COVID-19 is forcing businesses to reinvent themselves. They’re changing how they reach customers, distribute products, ensure employee well-being and safety, and so much more. In the face of these challenges, we’re seeing plenty of organizations pivoting to do the right thing—going beyond crisis control to also helping their people feel engaged and committed to doing their best work. Here are the most effective practices I’ve seen to date.
Enterprise-wide approaches to support people are helpful—to a point
Since the pandemic took hold, I have been speaking to Glint customers across industries to understand commonalities in how successful organizations are supporting their people today. I’ve been analyzing those observations alongside the millions of pieces of COVID-19-related employee feedback we’re collecting each month. The insights are powerful.
On average, across our customers, employees report high levels of confidence that their teams are taking the right precautions to minimize the pandemic’s impact (91% favorable). What’s more, according to a recent Glint survey of 2,610 LinkedIn members, about one-third (34%) of employees are reporting they both feel more engaged in their work, and have more opportunity to learn new skills now than they did just one month ago.
So what are the most successful organizations doing to earn such high scores? They start with the basics by ensuring top-down policies, processes, resources, and norms are centered around their people’s well-being and success. We call this being “people-centric,” and this pandemic is giving organizations the opportunity to demonstrate people-centricity in a big way. Here’s what it looks like in practice:
- Clear and consistently enforced policies protecting workers, and a culture that encourages the right behaviors
- Support to boost people’s resilience, such as: empathy and concern from leaders; flexible work arrangements; mental health services; resources on relevant topics like remote work and well-being; and opportunities to connect and maintain a sense of belonging
- Frequent communication about what’s happening and why (over and over again in multiple channels); seeking feedback from their people; and taking action—or explaining why a different one is being taken
By definition, the “things leaders implement” are top-down, and a top-down approach alone is insufficient. People’s needs are idiosyncratic, so even the best and most flexible systems require managers and employees to talk about individual challenges. And as we know, soft skills are not abundant in every organization.
People Success Checklist
So how do we help people bring their best selves to work and do their best work, when so much of this seems out of our control? We have to take a multi-threaded approach. Here are the three levels of “People Success” actions we recommend you take:
For your organization
- First, take stock of what your employees are going through right now.
It might not be the best time to continue pushing through a major business system upgrade or introduce a new performance-management process. Ask yourself if your current management practices—how you measure engagement, monitor performance, and promote learning—are even relevant right now. In the millions of pieces of employee feedback we’ve collected since March, employees have most frequently mentioned Communication, Remote Working, and Infrastructure and Tools.
What does this mean? People want a safe and easy way to seek support; help prioritizing; and to feel a sense of progress. If a practice or process isn’t geared to these outcomes, then drop, pause, or change it. For example, some CEOs are taking this opportunity to break through old habits and totally refresh how they do goal-setting and feedback, especially in a fast-pace remote work world. They’ve set new expectations for a more agile process that ensures every manager is having ongoing (at least monthly) goals conversations to realign goals and flex priorities in real time.
- Next, look at the current state of your culture.
- Finally, decide on how frequently you’re going to check in with people.
During times of stress, you can stay current with employee feedback (and also respond to their needs and priorities) with a monthly (or more often) check-in of one or two questions. Get started with this short pulse toolkit.
For your managers
- Give managers access to as much information as possible.
Managers need to help their people thrive in challenging times, and that job is made more difficult when goals are unclear. Across millions of pieces of feedback collected since March, managers are notably less positive (-18 percentage points vs non-managers) about clarity of prioritization than individual contributors, suggesting that managers may be determining priorities with incomplete information.
More information will help managers support their teams and communicate priorities. This includes feedback from employee pulse surveys, which can help them zero in on specific, local needs.
For your employees
- Seek help from your employees to improve your organization’s response to the challenge.
Ask for their ideas, insights, and collaboration on solutions. They will feel valued and helpful knowing that you are “in it together.” What we can tell you from experience is that, during times of distress, employees are most immediately concerned about the health, safety, and financial security of themselves and their families. Secondarily, they need support from solid leadership, open communication, meaningful connections, and access to resources to stay productive.
With those needs in mind, encourage employees to:
- Take time to reflect on what they need most urgently to feel safe and secure, and share those needs with their manager.
- Have regular, constructive conversations with their manager so they know what’s most important to focus on, how they might work more effectively, and what support and resources might be available.
- Remain focused on their health and safety, and not try to take on too much at work. Our most recent COVID-19 survey research shows the most universally negative sentiments among employees right now are Burnout and Workload. You can use these tips to help people with their well-being.
Placing your people at the center of attention during this challenging time has both short and long-term payback. By valuing employee needs now and helping them through the present challenges, you encourage them to persevere and empower them to be successful. You are also instilling a tremendous sense of gratitude that will help them stay connected to the organization and motivated to help it succeed.
Visit our COVID-19 resource center for more information on how to navigate this challenging time.