employee engagement

How To Maintain Employee Engagement During A Crisis

By Baili Bigham

As we step into the “new normal,” HR departments across the world are being asked to ramp up employee engagement efforts as a new frontier emerges in the state of work. The pandemic and the state of the economy has shaken many organizations to their core, revealing both incredible humanity and resiliency, along with some deep fissures that need our attention. And while no one has a roadmap for what’s next, we know that when uncertainty strikes strong employee engagement can help us weather the storm.

Why is employee engagement important?

Most managers have an idea of what defines an engaged employee. But helping employees feel fully supported and taken care of through so much day-to-day change makes engagement more difficult to achieve. So, here’s a review of how different levels of engagement, or disengagement, can shape employee behavior:

Engaged employees: These individuals are set apart by the level of excitement they willingly bring to their work. They go the extra mile, feel connected to their organization’s mission, and their passion drives innovation. 

Unengaged employees: These individuals do just enough to get by but rarely go above and beyond their primary responsibilities. They’re there for the paycheck and that’s about it. 

Actively unengaged employees: These individuals are extremely unfulfilled at work and completely unable to bring their best selves every day. In stark contrast to engaged employees, those who are deeply unengaged can have a negative impact on customer experiences, productivity, and profitability. 

Unfortunately, there is significant evidence that the majority of the world’s workforce falls into the unengaged category. And according to Gallup, these employees have a 37% higher rate of absenteeism, an 18% lower rate of productivity, and a 15% lower rate of profitability. But during a crisis, you may witness these percentages rise if left unaddressed. 

The true cost of an unengaged employee

Unengaged employees represent the greatest opportunity for organizations to improve both their culture and their profitability. And given that Gallup estimates that the cost of a single disengaged employee equates to 34% of their salary, it can no longer be considered a “nice to have.” Let’s put that number into perspective:

• Imagine an unengaged employee with a salary of $50,000 per year
• 34% of that salary is $17,000

If a single disengaged employee can cost you $17,000 per year, imagine what that number might be if you multiply it across the majority of your organization. This number also doesn’t take into account the impact on morale after an employee leaves, the cost of resources needed to backfill the role, and the amount of time it will take to get a new employee onboarded and up to speed. 

When a crisis emerges, the price of losing good talent can feel far more costly than a dollar amount. That’s why having the right employee engagement strategy in place could be the difference between watching your business scrape by or thrive.

Using employee engagement surveys to get to the root of the problem

No matter where you are in the lifecycle of your organization, the first step in addressing poor employee engagement is acknowledging the problem exists. Many leaders mistakenly believe they have high levels of employee engagement, but this is usually because they aren’t asking the right questions. In times of uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to monitor the health of your organization’s culture, and that starts with an honest appraisal of how your employees feel about their relationship to their work.

One way to get an accurate understanding of your organization’s level of engagement is by facilitating engagement surveys. Employees want to be heard and to feel like their voice matters. But in order to make the most of their feedback, the survey must collect data that’s relevant for each part of your workforce, actionable, and tied to your organization’s KPIs.  

After conducting the survey, it’s important for leaders to assess the baseline, quickly and transparently share the findings, and brainstorm measurable solutions. This will likely involve identifying barriers to engagement, training managers to weave employee engagement initiatives into all employee touchpoints, and creating feedback loops to regularly assess manager effectiveness

But this process will look very different if it’s played out in the midst of a crisis. Whether it’s due to a pandemic or economic uncertainty, when the work environment becomes significantly altered or disrupted leadership will face unique challenges as they try to keep their employees engaged. 

While we cannot predict the future, organizations can strive to learn from times of uncertainty and build proactive systems that create healthy, thriving, and profitable workplaces where employees feel heard and understood. 

Baili Bigham is the Content Manager at 15Five, continuous performance management software that includes weekly check-ins, OKR tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and 360° reviews. When Baili isn’t writing, you can find her binge-reading a new book or strategizing ways to pet every dog in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter @bgbigz.


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