As the COVID virus stubbornly hangs around, businesses and their employees are left in limbo over when or if there will be a return to normal office life. In the void, many workers are weighing their options and looking for greener pastures, upping the ante for employee pay, benefits and loyalty programs.
Energage, which specialize in workplace culture, released new survey findings indicating company engagement with employees has plummeted in recent months, after peaking in April 2020 when pandemic lockdowns began. Coincidentally or not, companies are experiencing a burst of departures, which suggests flagging loyalty to their employers and a willingness to explore new career paths.
“This data, coupled with dramatic decreases in ‘intent to stay’ percentages, signifies that whatever positive vibes or reputational gains that developed early in pandemic are quickly evaporating,” concludes Doug Claffey, founder and chief strategy officer for Energage.
Claffey advises employers to take immediate steps to “improve workers’ current situations – and strive to present a hopeful vision for the future.” He adds, “Companies would be wise to treat declining engagement and loyalty as an emergency. If you don’t, you might not have a staff left at all.”
Waning employee loyalty not only affects current workers, but also can make it even harder to recruit new workers. “Unhappy employees,” Claffey says “can dramatically damage morale and productivity and recruiting efforts, too.”
Other data reinforces the Energage findings. Uncertainty is abundant. Workplace culture is in flux. Employees are rethinking their options. Leaving employees in the dark is a prescription for disaster.
Employee engagement starts, to state the obvious, with actual engagement. That can include reassuring employees a business is on sound footing and their jobs are secure. It also can include a compensation review with an eye toward reaching competitive wages and benefits, which a company would have to provide to recruit a replacement. If return to an office is required, it’s important to explain upgraded health and safety measures. The point is having actual two-way conversations so employees are informed, feel valued and have a voice.
Remote work has been popular with many workers who don’t need to sit in an office to perform their job. This is a perfect topic for one-on-one and group conversations. Does the business still need a traditional office and, if so, what should it look like and how should it function? How can technology be applied to sustain team collaboration, whether in the office or remotely or both? What resources would be useful to enhance teamwork and increase productivity regardless of the work environment?
Rewards play a role in winning and keeping employee loyalty. Rewards can be bonuses, perks or special recognition. Line bosses should be given the latitude and green light to act like leaders and cheerleaders.
Honesty and openness is central to effective engagement. Don’t be afraid to treat employees as insiders by discussing business concerns or vulnerabilities. It’s important to empower employees in a new, still evolving work environment to make decisions and take risks. It’s wise to share realistic opportunities for promotion and professional growth, and to clear a path to allow employees to realize their opportunities.
Unhappy employees can dramatically damage morale and productivity and recruiting efforts, too.
If business managers experience stress, so do employees. Consider offering access to free, confidential counseling. Conduct information sessions to explain benefits programs and listen to employee concerns about benefit gaps. Make sure your door is open, and make sure you walk out the door to get a casual, first-hand feel for the operation. Anonymous workplace surveys can provide an avenue for candor, feedback and surprisingly good ideas.
Don’t overlook the importance and richness of a diverse, inclusive employee base.
A corporate brand is what customers think it is, and the same holds true for a corporate reputation that hangs in the balance of the perceptions of employees. Employees can be powerful brand advocates or a company’s worst nightmare. Company engagement needs to build employee self-esteem, confidence and respect, as well as offer security and a sense of teamwork.
The continuing waves of coronavirus have put governments, businesses, communities and families on edge. Business leaders have struggled to keep their enterprises viable while navigating emergency orders and evolving public health recommendations. But the struggle could be for naught if businesses lose the loyalty of their employees out of failure to continue to engage them.
Make employee engagement an essential and transparent business strategy. Share the good news and the bad news. Listen as well as talk. Take job satisfaction seriously. Reward employee motivation. Let employees know they are in the same lifeboat as the captains of the boat, and they will rise or fall together.