Written by Jennie Yelvington, MSW, ACSW, Program Manager, MSU HR Organization & Professional Development
Recent research analysis (Quantum Workplace, 2020) seems to indicate that employees are feeling more engaged now than prior to the pandemic. While that certainly isn’t true for everyone, there are a number of variables in this situation that have led many employees to rate their engagement as higher and their leaders as better than in the previous year, including increased communication and a focus on wellness.
Engagement during this time is complicated though, and efforts must be intentional and thoughtful as people struggle with a variety of new challenges.
Here are strategies that can help.
Frequent, Honest Communication
When times are ambiguous and rapidly changing, some leaders pull back, gloss over issues, and avoid decisions, which can cause more difficulty. “Cognitive biases, dysfunctional group dynamics, and organizational pressures push (leaders) toward discounting the risk and delaying action.” (Kerrissey 2020). Being straightforward with people about what you know and don’t know is essential, and it can include warnings that the direction could change as new information comes to light.
Action Step: Share information frequently. Consider brief meetings with your team multiple times per week. This allows all to touch base, ask questions, and share new information. Don’t make them any longer than they need to be and make sure you ask “how” people are doing, not just “what” they are doing.
The combination of direct honesty noted above must be combined with deep caring. When you do meet with others, make note of their behavior and level of interaction. If they don’t seem like themselves, check-in to see if they’re ok. Without the social contact we usually have, we rely more than ever on our work colleagues for compassion and the sharing of our human experiences. Taking a bit of time to do this helps to increase trust and the sense of being “in it” together. Also, be aware that people may be juggling multiple, additional responsibilities (such as helping kids with schoolwork) while doing their job. As much as possible and if the role allows, consider flexibility in schedules so that people can work when they are most able to focus.
Action Step: Reflect and support. Take time to think about how individuals who report to you are being impacted by this situation. When people share good news, join in that celebration. Consider what they might be struggling within their individual situation and how you can empathize and offer support or resources. Make sure people are aware of the MSU Employee Assistance Program services available to them. For resources related to flex schedules, childcare, elder care, and more, check out the WorkLife Office.
Keep an Inclusive Eye to Innovation
Engage your team in a fresh look at the work before you. What has changed? What has continued? What could benefit from being done differently? You may find that some of your employees have untapped skills that are now very useful or inventive ideas that might successfully move forward in this environment. Create a safe space for people to bounce around ideas and take some ownership in reinvention. Make sure you are listening to ideas from all team members, not just those who think like you. Diversity of thought and experience is what drives innovation. Empower your team to work together to solve new challenges, rather than having them passively waiting to be told what to do.
Action Step: Set the expectation that all team members stay up on best practices and future trends for their area of work. Set regular meetings (monthly or bimonthly) to share and brainstorm ways to integrate what they are learning.
Manage Performance and Support Development
The pandemic has resulted in many changes in how we approach and bring forward our work. Are you and your team prepared to meet the demand? Have you reviewed processes and expectations given the shifting environment, and made the expectations clear to your team? Be aware that employees might need help in developing new skills to carry out the work effectively in the new world. It is not uncommon for people to feel awkward or embarrassed about this need.
- Consider what materials, equipment, and training employees might need to be effective in this environment. If working from home, talk to employees about their home set-up. Is there something they could get from the office to aid their effectiveness, such as a desk chair or a second screen?
- If they are now coming into work, how are things going from a safety and process perspective? Frequently assess the situation. Make a plan to address any unexpected barriers and follow through. Be prepared to address non-compliance with the MSU Community Compact.
- Normalize the learning curve that exists and explore training programs and/or assistance from a colleague that might be helpful. Check out programs available from Organization & Professional Development, AAN, IT Services, Broad Executive Development Programs and elevateU.
Difficult times can often provide opportunities to draw people together around the mission and culture of the organization. Spartans have long been hard-working, problem solvers and there are countless examples of how our teams have risen to the occasion despite shifting ground and tight resources. When leaders exhibit honest, compassionate communication, flexible support, inclusive problem solving, and the ability to respond to changing needs, people are likely to be engaged, even during tough times.
Kerrissey, M. J., Edmondson, A. C., (April 13, 2020) What Good Leadership Looks Like During this Pandemic. Retrieved September 3, 2020, from https://hbr.org/2020/04/what-good-leadership-looks-like-during-this-pandemic
Quantum Workplace (2020) The Impact of Covid 19 on Employee engagement. Retrieved September 3, 2020, from https://marketing.quantumworkplace.com/hubfs/Marketing/Website/Resources/PDFs/The-Impact-of-COVID-19-on-Employee-Engagement.pdf?hsCtaTracking=1f30c83e-71cc-46e6-b9eb-9d682de56835%7C42c75679-4e54-4ddb-8a6f-87d61a43608b