Crisis & the Illusion of Employee EngagementJun 15, 2020
At some point in our professional lives, an organization we represent will be challenged by a crisis. Right now, during the Covid-19 pandemic, businesses worldwide are experiencing crises concurrently. The nature of the crises varies widely, but the effects are the same: businesses are under pressure, and so are employees.
Crises have a unique impact on employee engagement. It’s not at all uncommon to actually see an increase in the measurable dimensions of employee engagement as employees rally to the cause, solve problems and strive to protect both the business and their livelihoods.
In fact, we’re seeing that effect within Engagement Multipliers aggregate data right now, as average engagement store scores have risen significantly since March 1, when compared to prior months, before the pandemic outbreak.
So what’s happening here? For many organizations, the pressure of a crisis creates unity, and subsequently, alignment, cooperation and engagement that rise to levels not seen during normal operations.
Of course, circumstances vary from company to company. Reports of decreasing levels of employee motivation and engagement have already hit the news. And certainly, for organizations where there’s a little forward momentum, it’s not difficult to imagine how quickly malaise and demotivation can creep in, especially when exacerbated by a challenging working from home environment, the isolation and boredom of quarantine, and the uncertainty that surrounds us.
However, even for those organizations, there are lessons to be learned from teams that are achieving high degrees of engagement in the face of the Covid crisis. These include:
The power of a unifying purpose
In the case of Covid-19, the unifying purpose is actually our common enemy. The good news is that leaders can harness this phenomenon by creating a purpose to unite and motivate their teams.
Clear focus on outcomes employees can believe in
One of the most interesting things we’ve seen is the spike in the aggregate score data for the customer dimension. On Engagement Multiplier’s survey a high engaged customer score indicates the organization cares about its customers and strives to develop positive relationships with them. Helping customers – especially as many companies are during this particular crisis – is easy for employees to understand, and in many cases, supports the common good. Companies that have had to make significant changes to their sales and service models, for example in order to accommodate customers during this time, have amplified that focus across the organization.
In this case, engagement may simply be a function of perception and understanding — helping customers has a higher “feel good” quotient than some of the more esoteric projects organizations embark upon that have important, albeit less visible results.
Many leaders have significantly upped their communication game since the beginning of the pandemic. They’re communicating more regularly about steps they’re taking to protect employees, help customers, and answer questions about the business future. In many organizations, this is more communication than is normally seen. Fact is, employees respond well to clear and consistent communication from leadership.
In our own aggregate survey data, better communication from leadership is almost always at the top of employees wish lists.
The engagement illusion
Together, these conditions create the illusion of employee engagement – and they deliver some of the benefits. However, while all signs of employee engagement may be present, the effect will not be lasting. When the unifying purpose of the crisis goes away, when management ceases to communicate with clarity and when the customer falls out of focus, engagement can slip away.