How are you keeping furloughed and working employees engaged during lock down? Surely retaining them will be critical for your company’s recovery?

Talent retention has been a challenge long before the COVID-19 outbreak. The pandemic has only raised more questions. What are CEOs around the world doing to maintain employee engagement and increase talent retention during this crisis? Here are our thoughts gathered from conversations with leaders and our research.

What is employee engagement?

Employee engagement keeps workers dedicated to the business. It drives them to work to the fullest of their capabilities. Workers feel involved and an essential cog in the company’s wheel.

This goes beyond employee satisfaction as Kevin Kruse describes in a Forbes article. Satisfied employees are content with their job but that does not mean they won’t be just as happy at another company.

Employee engagement can provide a much better indicator of employee retention. It is also linked to other benefits such as greater ROI, higher employee productivity and stronger resilience when facing economic challenges.

Employee engagement struggles during Covid-19

Leaders are facing greater difficulty in maintaining employee engagement during the social distancing regulations. The following are just a few examples.

1. On-the-go learning

Even the companies that have some experience with remote working have had to step up, be flexible and accept it is a necessity and, indeed, an opportunity.

As these are unprecedented times, leaders are having to learn on the go. There is no rule book and so many are adopting a trial and error approach. Unfortunately, though, mistakes can have a long lasting and negative impact on teams.

2. CEO role adaptation

A CEO’s role is to provide strategic clarity, inspiration and bring teams together. Using “town hall meetings” and general face to face time is a way to gauge the temperature of the workforce but these tools have been removed with remote working and so CEOs have to use a different approach to achieve the same outcomes. Virtual meetings and video calls have become the norm, and although it ensures good communication, it is far from easy to ensure employees are truly happy and engaged especially with children being off school and houses becoming makeshift offices.

3. Employee Retention

Since financial security is the top concern for most households today, workers are less inclined to take their chances and will currently opt for the more stable job.

If a business fails to maintain employee engagement and cannot offer their staff any clarity on the future, current company performance or reassurance, they risk losing staff members to companies who will. Despite many being furloughed, talent retention is critical as it is these employees who will be vital in your drive out of lock down and to secure future success.

Best Practices for Keeping Active Employees Engaged During Social Distancing

Some businesses are making it through better than others. Let’s look into what leading companies are doing right in these uncertain times.

1. Prioritise employee incomes

Financial security and job security became the priority for employees and many companies are doing what they can to offer it to them. According to the BBC, nearly 9 million furloughed workers are receiving an income through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). There are many companies which have imposed pay reductions, but employees would rather endure this than not have a job.

2. A combination of structure & flexibility

Employers are learning that working from home is a different experience to working from the office. There are potentially more distractions, especially for those who have young children at home. On the other hand, remote workers are also more likely to overwork because they feel like they are on stand-by 24/7.

A recent In The Black article explores what employees can do to provide both structure and flexibility when working from home. Examples include;

  • Weekly team video conference meetings and more frequent one-on-one skype calls for structure
  • Not sending emails outside of working hours because this encourages overworking
  • Virtual meditation and yoga classes for mental health
  • Leniency in usual deadlines

The new role of CEOs and top-level management

From the above best practices, we can extrapolate important aspects of the CEO’s role on the road to COVID-19 recovery.

1. Building resilience through employee engagement

The role of leaders is to check in frequently with their employees. Gauge their stress levels, what their concerns are and what they need in order to work more comfortably. CEOs must adopt a listening and empathetic role.

2. CEOs are highly influential in employee morale

CEOs must understand that they have an impact on the morale of the entire company. The company is watching their every move, especially during a crisis. They must be transparent so that employees feel like they are in the loop.

CEOs should also be reassuring, offering some sense of stability in these uncertain times. This helps employees feel like they are still important to the business and not just a number.

3. Communication is everything

Remote workers require both structure and flexibility. Don’t put pressure on employees to work extra hours.

At the same time, give them the opportunity to work when it suits them best. As long as all parties involved know their role and responsibilities, a strict work schedule is not always necessary. Flexibility and understanding of an employee’s personal situation are critical at this time.

How to (re)engage active and furloughed employees post Covid-19

As lock downs are being eased, companies face a new challenge; how to re-engage their employees. The CEO’s work starts long before recovery as described below.

1. Maintain transparency from the start

Employees want to know what they can expect. Be honest about the possibilities in the future and the steps being taken in future plans. Inform them about the recovery plan and what they can expect to happen.

2. Continue checking in

Remember that returning to the office is yet another adjustment in an already quickly changing situation. Plan in several stages to allow for an adjustment period.

Don’t overwhelm your employees. Keep them informed but also give them space to react. Don’t stop the feedback sessions, make them feel comfortable voicing their opinions.

3. Offer flexibility

Flexibility is key in building resilience in a digitised economy. This transitioning period is the perfect time to introduce it to them. As employees learn to be more flexible, CEOs must learn to be too.

Ask them;

  • What remote work they want to continue
  • What perks and benefits would motivate them stay
  • What suggestions for change they have. There are so many positives to come out of the last few months too!

The physical distance is no excuse to drop employee engagement measures. They are more important than ever because you need to keep your top talent to be able to make it through the recovery period.