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How to maintain a positive employee experience during COVID-19.
This climate of uncertainty was always going to impact employees at different levels. Change is happening daily and it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain a positive employee experience. Leaders are in unchartered territory where they are trying to minimise the mental, emotional and physical impact on their team members whilst trying to protect themselves.
There is no doubt that employers have their work cut out for them in setting a consistent tone for the workforce and maintaining employee engagement. We are inundated with bad news about the global crisis and it is natural for employees to experience a range of emotions and concerns about their job and financial security, health, and anxiety over keeping loved ones safe.
Work life as we know it has been disrupted and so has the employee experience. This is a dangerous situation and it is imperative that employers are able to ensure their people plan is part of the business continuity strategy.
This crisis has stripped most of the ‘normal’ from our lives which has been necessary to survive the pandemic. With so much ‘taken’ from our everyday world, it is even more important that employers sustain momentum on the people agenda. The temptation is to postpone the leadership program, cancel the engagement survey and hold off sending out the 360 degree evaluations. This would be a mistake as it sends a message to employees that investing in people through a crisis in not a priority. Arguably keeping the focus on people can pay great dividends as employees appreciate that their organisation is forward thinking and committed to weathering the storm.
One of the deepest fears employees have is that they will fall victim to the dire economic climate and lose their jobs. This is a genuine and expected fear. The truth is most businesses will need to at least ‘trim around the edges’ in order to cut costs and come out the other side. That being said, in some cases it may only be a 5% impact and yet 95% of the workforce are losing sleep. Employers are encouraged to keep as many ‘business as usual’ activities during the crisis. This helps to create comfort and provide hope to employees that the organisation is still forward focused.
Most employees have at one time or another felt that working from home occasionally would be appealing. Fast forward to a time when this has become mandatory and, understandably, there are many experiencing loneliness and cabin fever. In normal circumstances, regular contact is seen as micromanagement, but in this climate, it is somewhat craved. Most engagement survey results strongly reveal that the deep connection with other workers is a critical engagement hook. It is time to implement an environment where the ‘virtual water cooler’ and ‘Friday afternoon drinks’ come to life. When you strip away the people interaction – you are just left with the work and for many this is disengaging. Its time to get to know employees on a deeper level and bond over this unique scenario.
One of the biggest employee gripes is that their manager doesn’t listen. Now more than ever it is imperative that leaders become five star listeners. Ask the employee open ended questions and listen to the answer.
It can be a simple as:
“Emma, tell me about the challenges you have been experiencing with project X?” or
“Anoosh, I am really interested to hear how you have been going working from home. What can I do to make the experience better for you?”.
Listening to employees is one of the best ways to maintain a positive employee experience as it builds the connection, demonstrates authenticity in leadership and creates open and honest dialogue.
In times of change, it is critical that employees feel connected to the employer and are well informed. A clear communication strategy builds trust and credibility and ensures that employees are up to date on company information and key business changes. Employers are encouraged to increase their virtual visibility and to make themselves available to the employee group.
Senior leaders used to have the luxury of ‘walking the floor’ to say good morning and to gauge how things are going. In this climate, that is no longer possible, so the senior leaders are encouraged to get creative and consider a virtual walk through. Perhaps this can be done by joining a Zoom team meeting or organising a virtual morning tea where employees can ask questions directly.
One of the quickest ways to break the positive employee experience is to start micromanaging or removing reasonable decision making ability. Now is not the time to adopt a presenteeism approach and it is important to empower employees with the latitude to make decisions about how they will achieve their work outputs. The beauty of empowerment is that it allows employees to shine.
There has never been a better time to invest in the well being of the employee group. Perhaps you have been on the fence for a while about engaging an Employee Assistance Provider (EAP) or creating a corporate wellness program. It may seem like the time to tighten the belt on the budget, but sometimes a small investment can bring great dividends. This might be in employee retention, reducing absenteeism or increasing discretionary effort. Consider diverting the weekly fruit spend for the kitchen into an online mindfulness program or create a virtual fitness session using an expert and technology.
A positive employee experience is always valuable, however taking your eye off of this strategy during the COVID-19 crisis would be a mistake. More than ever workers are looking to their employers for stability and normality. It is somewhat easy to nurture the employee experience in the physical workplace, but this crisis creates an opportunity for organisations to stand strong in adversity and rise to the challenge. When the dust settles in the months to come, employees will remember the unique and creative ways their organisations showed that they care.
For further assistance with workers' compensation or any workplace matter, Ai Group members can contact us or call the Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77.
Ai Group is continually publishing new COVID-19 advice and resources for employers: