Connect with Your Co-Workers on Employee Appreciation Day

Employee Appreciation Day (March 5, 2021) reminds us to connect with and recognize the awesome people we work with every day. After a full year of remote work and social distancing, it’s no surprise many of us are feeling more disconnected than ever. According to Employee Benefit News, “While COVID-19 has exacerbated the effects of isolation on employees, loneliness in the workplace has been a growing problem. A pre-pandemic survey by Cigna found that more than 60% of employees were lonely at work.” If you’re struggling, know that you’re not alone and that there are small steps you can take to feel more connected.

While adding one more task to your to-do list may feel impossible, taking time to connect with or recognize your co-workers can improve your well-being tremendously. These interactions don’t have to be elaborate; a virtual chat over morning coffee with a few co-workers can do wonders for your mental health. And there’s no need to wait for a supervisor to initiate these activities. Reach out, connect and recognize your co-workers in a way and at a time that works for you.

Need some ideas to get started? Here are some ways to connect with and recognize your coworkers both one-on-one and all together:

  1. Take a virtual workout class together. Do you miss that afternoon walk or evening workout class with your co-worker? MSU Recreational Sports and Fitness Services offers virtual group classes over Zoom and Fitness On Demand, which gives you over 1,000 classes to choose from. Additionally, benefit-eligible employees have access to MSU Benefits Plus, which allows you to explore Global Fit’s growing library of free virtual classes and resources. Login to MSU Benefits Plus, click on Discount Shopping in the top navigation then type “Global Fit” in the search box to find a link to the digital resource library.
  2. Join or set-up an online coffee break to chat and check-in. Are there people you used to regularly talk with in-person that you now only communicate with via email? A regular coffee break just to check in could be an easy way to connect, even if it’s only for 10 minutes.
  3. Engage new team members. If your team has new employees, they’ve probably never seen their co-workers face-to-face. And without those unstructured points of connection between team members — coffee breaks, walking to a meeting together, etc. — it can be hard to connect with others on topics outside of work-related matters. Why not try some virtual icebreakers to help everyone get to know each other? While “icebreakers” can sound a bit cheesy, the conversations that result can be great for helping people feel more connected. MSU Extension has a list of 65 icebreaker questions for online meetings to help. Here in HR, we have a Get to Know Your HR Colleagues questionnaire that people have the option to fill out, and then we share their answers in our internal newsletter.
  4. Learn something new as a team. Ask your supervisor or manager about setting up a training program for your whole team or unit to participate in together. We suggest you check out MSU Health4U’s new Virtual Health and Well-Being Sampler Series, which is offered to units and departments. Participating units will have a chance to map out a custom, six-week course series with classes about emotional wellness, food and nutrition, and movement and fitness.
  5. Team-led virtual lunch and learn sessions. Do you have co-workers with extensive knowledge on a specific topic or a cool hobby? Ask a team member to share what they know or give a demonstration during a lunch break.
  6. Play a virtual game. There are a variety of games your team can play virtually for some lighthearted fun. From collaborative online games to virtual scavenger hunts, google “online games for remote teams” and see which ones would work best for you and your co-workers.
  7. Step away from your computer and take a break outside. Spring is right around the corner and soon it will be nice enough to take a stroll outside in the sunshine. Check-in with a co-worker on the phone while you take a quick walk or sit outside.
  8. Send a shout-out to your co-worker to recognize all the great work they do. You could email them directly, give them kudos in your department newsletter, or send a Spartan Shout-Out to the InsideMSU newsletter that goes to all MSU employees (email kudos to insidemsu@msu.edu).
  9. Mail a Thank You Note or Token of Appreciation: during one the busiest times of the year here in HR, my supervisor mailed me a bag of coffee from a shop local to her as a token of appreciation. The gesture was so kind and unexpected, it improved my mood immensely and instantly made me feel more connected to the team. While you may not be able to send your coworkers gifts, a hand-written note or postcard letting them know you’re grateful for them can be a great way to recognize their contributions.

Feel free to think outside the box and come up with ideas that better suit you and your coworkers’ personalities. Taking time to connect with and recognize your co-workers — no matter how brief — can do wonders to improve your well-being and team morale overall. As a reminder, if you’re struggling with your mental health and need to talk to a professional, be sure to utilize your employee mental health resources.

Sources:

Place, A., & Nedlund, E. (2020, December 7). WFH loneliness is the latest virtual challenge for employers. Employee Benefit News. https://www.benefitnews.com/news/wfh-loneliness-is-the-latest-virtual-challenge-for-employers

Employee Engagement in a Rapidly Changing Workplace

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. 

Demonstrate Empathy 

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. 

Action Steps:  

  • 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, AANIT 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. 

Sources:

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 

Maintaining Employee Engagement During COVID-19

In a matter of months, our world has changed drastically due to COVID-19. Everything about our work lives, home lives and social lives is now different as much of our day-to-day interaction with others is now done virtually. For many, navigating the changes between in-person to online work has been no easy task. Working remotely with little in-person communication can make it difficult to recognize what the purpose of your work is or remember the goals your team has put in place. As employees continue to work remotely, it is important to make time to check in with yourself and your team members about these things to maintain a strong sense of employee engagement within your virtual team to ensure continued success.

What is Employee Engagement?

But what is employee engagement exactly? Employee engagement is the emotional commitment an employee has to their work, their team’s goals and their company’s mission. To inspire this emotional commitment, you must first understand what drives it. Engaged employees tend to feel like:

  • They have a purpose at their company
  • They are aware of how their work helps them grow
  • They understand how they impact others

However, many people tend to have different definitions of employee engagement that include employee happiness or employee satisfaction. Although these things are not what defines employee engagement, both employee happiness and employee satisfaction are still important elements in the larger ecosystem that drives engagement. This means to support this emotional commitment from employees, organizations have to create a strong, cultural foundation to be able to achieve high levels of employee engagement.

Why is it Important?

Whether you realize it or not, employee engagement can ultimately have one of the biggest impacts on your organization’s goals. The difference between a team of engaged employees and a team of disengaged employees could be what’s creating problems within your team’s productivity and quality of work.

During this time of remote work due to COVID-19, reaching high levels of employee engagement seems to be an especially large challenge for many. With employees away from the office and their coworkers, it can be very easy for them to become disengaged from their work or see the purpose in doing it at all. While it may seem impossible, there are still many things team leaders can do to help combat high disengagement levels during COVID-19, even while working remotely.

Tips for Maintaining High Employee Engagement While Still Working Remotely

  1. Develop a sense of purpose at work

Successful, engaged teams are made up of employees that have a sense of purpose. To develop this sense of purpose for employees within their work, try reminding employees how important each of their roles are to your team’s goals at team meetings to help them understand the impact of their efforts.

  1. Offer professional development opportunities

Employees should be able to expect a range of learning and development opportunities from their employers to be able to stay engaged and invested in their roles. To inspire engaged employees that want to grow and improve, try searching for and reminding employees of professional development opportunities that you come across.

  1. Give recognition and rewards

A powerful way to improve employee engagement is to recognize and reward employees for their successes. To elevate your employee recognition, try tying it to real and frequent rewards to build more engaged employees.