Unprecedented change in the way we work and the pressures involved have brought employee engagement into sharp focus. While last year camaraderie ran high as we adapted to living within a pandemic, this time around polls show resilience is on the wane. Greater numbers of workers and managers are feeling disconnected from their organisations, and it has led to surging demand for cutting edge employee engagement solutions to foster emotional commitments from employees to the business for which they work. The reason is simple: engaged staff make for efficient and profitable organisations - uncommitted workforces create the opposite.
The sudden elevation of Melbourne-based HR software provider Culture Amp to Australia’s most valuable tech company last month highlighted the laser focus on employee engagement. The start-up accepted $135 million in funding, giving it an implied $2 billion valuation. Culture Amp CEO Didier Elzinga said the funding was accepted despite the company’s cash flow positive status because it was too good an opportunity given momentous and ongoing changes in workplaces worldwide and rise in remote working.
Evidence of workplace stress appeared within months of the pandemic arriving early last year. In mid-2020 a US Gallup poll revealed 70% of workers did not feel ‘engaged’ –defined as being involved, enthusiastic and committed to their employer. The level was the highest Gallup had recorded since 2000 and managers and leaders were worst affected. The survey was based on a random sample of almost 2700 full and part-time US employees working in the first fortnight of June last year.
The global havoc being wreaked by the delta strain continues to challenge organisations everywhere: Culture Amp data shows for instance that in May this year, about 65% of leaders globally felt they couldn’t switch off and only 57% felt productive. Another study commissioned by employee platform provider Achievers looked at how Australian organisations were faring over a year into the pandemic. Results released last month showed not only were engagement levels of employees working from home faltering, higher-ups were mostly failing to recognise their staff’s declining morale.
“Managers are underestimating engagement by up to three times,” said Achievers’ Melbourne-based APAC managing director Matt Seadon. The poll, carried out by researchers at StollzNow on behalf of Achievers, found over 35% of Australian WFH employees felt less engaged with their company while just under 25% felt more engaged. The remainder were ambivalent to the paradigm shift.
Lack of facetime is at the root of disengagement – and top of the list of solutions is any method that creates a sense of belonging and connectedness Mr Seadon said. “Employees with a strong sense of belonging are more productive, resilient, engaged and committed,” he said.
“But we don’t get the opportunity anymore to bump into people in the office and have the kind of spontaneous conversations and make connections that give us that strong sense of connectedness.”
Among the methods used by Achievers to counter this problem is technology that organises “coffee chats” between employees. Utilising an organisation’s video conferencing platform, the software will line up virtual connections between employees who may have never met previously or work in difference departments or countries. “At Achievers we use it to connect our worldwide teams,” Mr Seadon said. “We may have our development team in Australia connecting with our customer development teams in Singapore and Toronto and for 15 minutes they can share stories, meet a new face and ultimately gain a greater understanding about what’s happening across the business.”
Remote work has also placed greater importance on regular informal ‘pulse surveys’ Mr Seadon said. These can quickly gauge everything from employee emotional wellbeing and job satisfaction to niggling problems. But equally important is ensuring managers act on employee feedback, whether that means being more flexible with workloads due to the distractions of homelife, allowing an employee to work around their home-schooling commitments, or simply dialling in more often to touch base.
Recognition and appreciation is vital to build and maintain morale in a remote workforce many of whom may be unused to working at home. “Take the time to say thanks and recognise people for their behaviours and it will have lasting impact on their engagement with the organisation,” Mr Seadon said.
Showing the human side
Veteran real estate industry trainer Peter Malouf said maintaining employees’ emotional engagement during the pandemic boiled down to “being human”. Conversations with hundreds of agents, salespeople, company directors and leaders since the start of last year have led him to conclude that “everybody - myself included -believes it’s time to show your humanity.”
“One of the first things leaders must do is take the time to understand what their employees are actually feeling and listen,” said Mr Malouf, head trainer at Stone Real Estate. “Be genuine, be helpful. Ask how their job is working for them, where would you like to in three, six, 12 months’ time?”
Mr Malouf said one manager he knows makes a point of telling staff ‘you don’t worked for me I work for you’ before asking ‘what do you need?’ “If you help people achieve their ambitions and needs it goes a long way,” Mr Malouf said.
- Employee engagement platform provider Achievers is holding a free virtual seminar on September 23 covering strategies for creating a strong sense of belonging in the workplace. Achievers Chief Workforce Scientist Natalie Baumgartner, PhD will share the pillars of belonging and how to improve existing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) and employee experience programs. Register at: Employee Recognition & Engagement Platform - Achievers