Insights From the Pandemic Engagement Pulse Check

The coronavirus pandemic has made maintaining an open, two-way dialogue between leaders and employees more important than ever. To help with this, McLean & Company created a short pulse survey – the Pandemic Engagement Pulse Check - for organizations that wanted an effective way to collect feedback and measure employee engagement during these unique times.

Feedback from these surveys has given our analysts a remarkable look into how employees are thinking and feeling and what they need from their employers. We’ve also heard from HR leaders across North America on what is top of mind for them.

The first surprising finding is that employee engagement has actually increased since the onset of COVID-19 – by about 13%!

In the following Spotlights, our analysts have outlined some of their most interesting observations and insights.

  • Nadine Baziuk provides an overview of trends in Employee Engagement “Aha” Moments During the COVID-19 Pandemic.
  • Emma Dagbo looks at the crucial role of leadership in Use the 3i’s of Engaging Management – Inform, Interact, and Involve – in Management Communications During COVID-19.
  • Ilham Ahmed provides advice to organizations in Three Key Insights to Returning to the Workplace.

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Employee Engagement “Aha” Moments During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Nadine Baziuk

Working directly with McLean & Company members on their Pandemic Engagement Pulse Check surveys, I have seen first-hand the unique challenges organizations have faced and some of the ways they have worked to address and respond to employee concerns throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve also noticed the pandemic has shed light on how organizations can better approach employee engagement, making way for a refresh to the current practices and ideas we have in place about how we work.

Our survey data has shown us not only that minor engagement has improved but also that this improvement is related to specific areas in the survey (e.g. leadership, communication, and support, to name a few) that arguably played a crucial role in the changes we have seen. Let’s take a closer look across these areas in the survey.

Communication has been at the forefront, with HR and leadership taking the lead in delivering relevant information to the broader organization. As a result of the uncertainty in the world, employees are increasingly looking for clear and reassuring messaging surrounding their jobs, how their organizations have been impacted, and the resources available to them. I have also seen many expressing a need for more personal and virtual interactions, leading them to find more ways to connect, collaborate, and support their colleagues.

Feedback from employees also spoke to increased leadership visibility during the pandemic. It was astounding to see how initiatives such as CEO-led virtual coffee chats and staff meetings resonated so positively with employees. Leaders have gone as far as taking pay cuts instead of reducing employee salaries. These types of actions have improved perceptions of leadership, as they have demonstrated more visibility and compassion through more frequent communication.

I have seen an increased level of resources and flexibility provided to employees to support their wellbeing and mental health. Employees are interested to continue working from home, at least on a part-time basis. While many comments have expressed higher levels of productivity, better work-life balance, and shortened commute time, working from home has also resulted in many working longer hours, heightened workloads and expectations, and less time for personal responsibilities. Naturally, many concerns around wellness, mental health, and childcare duties were raised, which HR folks had to address in terms of what support to provide and how to sustain it. Our Sustain Work-From-Home in the New Normal blueprint shares ideas on how to integrate and support work-from-home not only now but beyond the pandemic as well. Some successful actions I have seen taken included providing flex hours, personal accommodations, employee assistance programs, meditation, virtual yoga, coffee chats, additional PTO, and other subscription-based services. I am curious to see how benefits will continue to evolve considering there is a large influx in those seeking out additional help, especially those with childcare duties. Take a look at our Essential COVID-19 Child Care Policy for Every Organization, Yesterday to help your employees balance dependent care with work during a pandemic.

We will continue to learn and adapt as circumstances change, but the actions taken in response to the pandemic have and will set new standards and expectations that will likely need to be maintained as employees have adapted to these changes. If you’ve made adjustments that employees have responded to, how will you uphold them as time goes by? What will it take to maintain these efforts, and how will engagement scores shift over time? From what I gather, employees are not willing to quickly move back into the way things once were.

Time will tell.

If you are interested in monitoring your organization’s engagement levels and collecting feedback during this time, consider using our Pandemic Engagement Pulse Check.

Use the 3i’s of Engaging Management – Inform, Interact, and Involve – in Management Communications During COVID-19

By Emma Dagbo

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot of changes throughout the workplace. As organizations are forced to adapt to this new normal, employees are continuously looking to their senior leaders for communication and direction. For organizational wellbeing and efficiency, leaders need to continuously provide ongoing, clear, and transparent messaging to their workforce.

Organizations that have done so have seen great improvement in their engagement. Since April 2020 over 60 organizations have conducted McLean & Company’s Pandemic Engagement Pulse Check. Through the survey data, we have seen a great increase in employee engagement during COVID-19. What contributes to this increase? Employee feedback tells us that organizational leaders have stepped up their communication during COVID-19.

Through the Pandemic Engagement Pulse Checks we have seen a 20% increase in employee understanding of business decisions made by members of the executive team. Additionally, employees said they felt more well informed about decisions that affected them than before the pandemic.

In what ways has communication improved?

  • Frequent and informative communication – Executive teams that used to talk to their employees once a quarter are now communicating with their employees on a weekly or biweekly basis. Management teams are checking in on their employees daily through phone calls, instant messaging, and virtual meetings. These approaches have increased employees’ sense of accessibility to their leaders.
  • Personal communication – Senior leaders are interacting with employees on a personal level more than ever before. Through video messaging and open and honest discussion of mental wellbeing, management teams have expressed vulnerability and have given employees a glimpse of their personal lives. By connecting with their employees on a more personal level these leaders have increased the rapport and sense of trust employees have for them.
  • Increased bottom-up communication – To involve employees, senior leaders have introduced virtual town halls in which employees can ask questions and provide feedback in real time to their leaders. When senior leadership and management respond to the questions and comments in an unrehearsed fashion, it reinforces the transparency of their messaging.

This shift has allowed organizations to increase their strategic communication strategy by reinforcing key messaging and facilitating two-way dialogue.

As remote work and COVID-19 continues, this level of communication among senior leadership and management must continue to maintain engagement. Expectations have been set, and employees are now seeing this level of transparent and ongoing communication as the norm.

McLean & Company’s engagement survey data shows that employees who understand the rationale behind decisions made by executive leaders are 4.3 times more likely to be engaged (McLean & Company Engagement Survey Database, 2018). Additionally, employees who believe management acts on employee feedback are 3.8 times more likely to believe their company has a bright future (McLean & Company Engagement Survey Database, 2018). There is a lot of uncertainty in the world right now. The belief an employee has in their organization's future is very important to their engagement and productivity.

If strategic communication is something you are struggling with in your organization, McLean & Company provides research that can assist you in building an effective internal communication strategy. The Craft an Internal Communication Strategy blueprint will guide you empower leaders in your organization to communicate effectively. In addition, Maintain Employee Engagement During the COVID-19 Pandemic contains a Tactics Catalog that provides approaches on how senior leadership and management can communicate personably and effectively to their team. Furthermore, the 3i’s of Engaging Management – Manager Guide discusses tactics to be a more engaging manager by using the 3i approach of inform, interact, and involve.

Three Key Insights to Returning to the Workplace

By Ilham Ahmed

Lately in my role of helping McLean & Company members analyze and act on their employee survey data, I have spent a lot of time with clients discussing their COVID-19 response and the impact on employees. Right now, the topic of concern for most organizations is when and how to bring employees back to the workplace. Although it is difficult to provide a definitive date to return to the office, as the pandemic continues to unfold differently across geographies, the nebulous timeline of reopening in some communities may be soon approaching. Whatever stage you’re at in your return-to-the-workplace plan, here are three key considerations:

1. Use your organization’s strategic priorities to guide your decisions for returning to the workplace.

Use your organization’s strategic priorities as the anchor for your return-to-the-workplace plan. It is important to have an unwavering reference point for decision making as you maneuver through the challenges you face. For example, if customer experience is your priority and what helps you remain competitive, ensure you bring your employees back to work in a way that maintains or enhances your service to customers. Check in with each work unit, department, or role to see who needs to return to the office to best achieve your strategy.

2. Start with volunteers and use their feedback to plan for a larger rollout.

If your organization has been able to operate up until now and your strategic priorities don’t require you to return to the workplace immediately, gauge the interest of coming back to the office. If you do need to have certain work units back as soon as possible, see if there are any employees who would want to volunteer to start coming into the office a few days of the week. Data from our Pandemic Engagement Pulse Check showed that while some employees may be itching to return to the workplace, the majority only wanted to return if there was a proper plan in place that would ensure their safety. The feedback also showed that employees who are high risk or are interacting frequently with high-risk individuals such as elderly relatives or those who are immunocompromised are especially concerned. Each employee’s situation is different, and bringing employees back on a voluntary basis allows them to have a choice in the timing of their return based on their comfort level.

By implementing a constant stream of communication between managers and these volunteers you can also create a feedback loop. Employers can gather information about the current COVID-19 protocols and learn about what isn’t working and what they can do to make employees feel safer. Some examples that we have come across in our surveys are that employers should provide more PPE equipment, enforce strict guidelines for customers and staff with regards to social distancing, and increase sanitization on high-touch points and in communal spaces. Through these volunteers, your organization can better understand and prepare for what needs to be improved for the larger rollout in the future.

3. Be prepared for an iterative process as the situation continues to change.

If we’ve learned anything from this virus it’s that things can change rapidly. The return-to-the-workplace plan needs to be flexible to accommodate any new changes as COVID-19 evolves. Continue to closely monitor the internal environment through employee feedback and the external environment through government regulations so you can adjust your plan in real time.

To do this effectively, first create checkpoints to assess your return-to-the-workplace plan frequently. This can be weekly, biweekly, or monthly. Second, consult your stakeholders regularly. Check in with managers to see how their teams are doing, assess work units every so often with senior leaders, and touch base directly with employees. Last, keep evaluating the COVID-19 protocols that you have set in your workplace and make improvements based on employee feedback.

For more information, refer to our blueprint Bring Employees Back to the Workplace Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Returning to the workplace continues to be top of mind for organizations. Although no one has the experience of operating a business amid a global pandemic, through these insights you can develop a safer, efficient, and successful plan.

Does your organization have a return-to-the-workplace plan?

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