Post-covid employee engagement
Fiona Passantino, December 2021
Gallup recently revealed that only 31% of the US working population describe themselves as engaged. The least engaged were leaders and mid-level managers[i]. The Great Resignation is here and it’s real. Companies need to re-imagine how to attract fresh talent and keep the current pool happy.
Welcome “EX”: the Employee Experience. It is quickly outpacing CX (Customer Experience), as an area of focus as we enter the Post-Covid age[ii].
Humans want their work to have meaning and impact. “Engagement” is the connection employees feel toward their jobs and the degree to which they are willing to give to their team, their organization and align behind its basic vision[iii]. Enjoy autonomy, respect and a positive work culture[iv].
This is not the same as “job satisfaction”. A satisfied worker may feel content in their job but are not dedicated, motivated or committed. They might not bring their best performance nor put the interests of the organization ahead of their own.
Engaged employees are high performers: 17% more productive than their peers[v]. They are team players, stay longer with a company and experience lower levels of burnout. Absenteeism rates are 41% lower than the merely satisfied employee[vi]. Radiating outwards, engaged employees provide better service to the customer according to 72% of executives and become brand advocates.
The Engagement Zone
Keeping us in the engagement zone means adjusting the work environment around who we are and what we can do. Demand results just at or above our current level without overwhelming us. Provide a healthy mix of “must-do” drudgery, inspirational, long-term, slow-burning assignments and rapid-fire, tight turnaround output. Shower us with positive feedback for a job well done, communicate a clear roadmap for the future.
The Employee Lifecycle
As with CX and the all-important Customer Journey, we can map the Employee Life Cycle, tracking engagement through the touch points of our careers much like one measures customer Pain Points or Moments of Truth.
Long before we apply for a job, the Brand Story is already out there, flowing through our digital spaces and subconscious minds. It’s this Brand Story that carries the applicant through conversion and compels us to click “Apply”. In the post-Covid era, the physical university job fair and Muffin Morning events are no more. Today, awareness is largely a digital affair.
The wheels of attraction are greased with awareness; it’s easier for famous brands, national names or industry-leading organizations to lure an applicant into the application funnel and more work for the start-up. Thanks to Covid and our rapid digital transformations, we can do our work from anywhere, so the world is our talent pool. Adding talent from the world makes our workforce more diverse and thus more reflective of the customers we serve.
The first Human2Human interactions with attracted professionals usually mean a crash course in company culture and job content. Covid, and the digital workspace makes peer-to-peer recruitment more interesting: where engaged employees chat up candidates over low-key cup of coffee. Actively chasing parents hoping to re-enter the market or recent arrivals to a country, 50+ professionals or those having recently made a career shift makes a workforce only makes our teams richer and more like the world “out there”.
The employer and the candidate perform a professional mating dance, circling around each other, putting their best soft skills to work, asking questions and listening carefully to what is said and not said. Feeling a “click” or connection. The ability to listen and adjust is almost as important as the clarity with which work content is communicated.
Hired? Make it a party. Welcome us with food or a gift, meet the new team. This should be low-key and fun and not about work at all. Because the grueling challenge of onboarding awaits.
Remember your first weeks in your current job? Remember how lost you might have felt, overwhelmed, exhausted? Hundreds of names to remember, processes to keep straight, departments, tools and rules, rituals and cadences, platforms and ways of working. Maybe doing this in your non-native language.
Onboarding in the post-Covid age means onboarding in the dark; getting to know a new organization and all the people in it in a totally flat, two-dimensional space in our heads. This is mentally exhausting and requires much more time, effort and patience than it did pre-Covid, in the live environment, where the IT guys were on the third floor and marketing-communications was on seven. Onboarding is a significant investment in time and effort by all those around the new person; it takes a village, and everyone touching this person plays a role.
Getting into “settling” is like a rocket achieving escape velocity. Vast effort and energy is needed to leave the ground and fight through the through the thick atmosphere of Earth. Eventually this slows down and the onboarder can melt into a comfortable flow. We can look around a bit and take in the view: see where we are, who we’re with and where we’re going.
This is a critical moment to step in and engage before complacency sets in, particularly in a fully-digital environment. What are our ideas? Within the bandwidth of our roles, how much time is available to build and develop, own and grow a special project, take on a challenge, and branch out? Ideally between 10-20%.
While some of us are happy to be doing the same thing for many years, most want to see a path forward and a future. How much room is there to job-design, create new responsibilities and projects within an existing role? Leaders need to listen to where the person wants to go and actively provide the tools, training and sandbox (a safe area in which to play and fail) to get them there. Regular pay raises and new titles don’t hurt either.
The three-year mark is often the moment when we ask ourselves whether we’re going somewhere in our current role. While employee attrition is a natural part of business, a high level of churn is a signal that this is getting missed. This is the moment to listen and empower and enable us to reach further and higher; take on leadership roles, speak in public on behalf of the company or advise on policy. A new role, a change, a promotion, a new team sends this person back to step 5 – (re-)onboarding – in a new role. Or it’s time to say goodbye.
Unless we work for military Special Ops, we generally can be trusted to off-ramp in a calm, adult manner rather than being escorted out of the building and locked out of our accounts while we’re in the restroom. A smooth transition of duties, cross-training and overlap for the new person is beneficial to everyone.
These days, offboarding is no longer always forever goodbye; with 40% of us considering returning to a company we worked for in the past (46% of Millennials, 33% of Gen Xers and 29% of Baby Boomers) and 76% of HR professionals open to re-hiring, the phenomenon of the “boomerang” employee is more and more common. Just because a person, a role or an organization isn’t a good fit now doesn’t mean they never will be. In short, keep those relationships friendly and the back door open.
The farewell party is over, the employee has been replaced by someone new, the work is taken up by others, the final paperwork is done. But, like matter and energy, nothing ever disappears in the universe. There are ongoing friendships with current employees, contacts with clients and suppliers the person carries with them long after they leave. You may even find yourself sitting across from them in a years’ time, working for a competitor, a supplier or even a client.
We work for money and benefits but we become engaged when we feel we are doing well. Companies with a high EX will naturally also experience a high CX. This is because one of the key attributes shared by leadership and worker alike in high CX/EX organizations is empathy: the ability to feel and understand another point of view. In the end, it’s about the bottom line: companies that invest in EX show more than twice the average revenue than those that don’t[viii].
[i] Harter, 2020. “Historic Drop in Employee Engagement Follows Record Rise”. Accessed November 29, 2021. Gallup Workplace. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/313313/historic-drop-employee-engagement-follows-record-rise.aspx#:~:text=Line%20graph%20showing%20the%20U.S.,and%2015%25%20were%20actively%20disengaged.&text=Taking%20into%20consideration%20three%20Gallup,workers%20during%202020%20is%2036%25.
[ii] Banerjee , 2020. “Reimagine the employee experience”. Accessed November 29, 2021. Accenture Strategy https://www.accenture.com/us-en/insights/strategy/employee-experience
[iii] Ryba, 2021. “What is Employee Engagement? What, Why, and How to Improve It”. Accessed November 29, 2021. Quantum Workplace. https://www.quantumworkplace.com/future-of-work/what-is-employee-engagement-definition
[iv] Swank, 2021. What is Employee Engagement? The Ultimate Effectory Guide to Engagement. Visited on November 29, 2021. https://www.effectory.com/knowledge/what-is-employee-engagement/#
[v] Ryba, 2021. “What is Employee Engagement? What, Why, and How to Improve It”. Accessed November 29, 2021. Quantum Workplace. https://www.quantumworkplace.com/future-of-work/what-is-employee-engagement-definition
[vi] Swank, 2021. What is Employee Engagement? The Ultimate Effectory Guide to Engagement. Visited on November 29, 2021. https://www.effectory.com/knowledge/what-is-employee-engagement/#
[vii] Holliday, 2021. “11 Stages in the Employee Life Cycle: How to Measure & Optimize”. Accessed November 29, 2021. Oracle Netsuite. https://www.netsuite.com/portal/resource/articles/human-resources/employee-life-cycle.shtml
[viii] Bhatia, 2019. “Understanding pain points and delight: The key to a better employee experience.” Accessed November 29, 2021. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/understanding-pain-points-delight-key-better-employee-dilip-bhatia/
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What does it mean to be “engaged” in today’s workplace? How do we inspire, inform and connect a working community, build a culture of irreplaceability, trust and listening to keep people onboard and rowing together?
Engagement is about bringing our best selves to the office, being heard, supported, feeing irreplaceable and free. This bright, funny comic book is a road map for leaders at any level, at any organization, telling the story of Covid, offering a clear, research-driven roadmap towards our future of work.