The future of employee engagement post-COVID
Ryan Tahmassebi, Director of People Science at HIVE HR, speaks to Craig Smith of The Big Picture People and discusses the future of employee engagement as we head out of the COVID-induced lockdown in the UK.
A trained business psychologist, Ryan’s role is to help organisations understand the part that data and people analytics play in driving and shaping better employee experiences and creating more fulfilling and engaging workplaces.
In an episode that includes some surprising data shots, Ryan leads the listener to a significant conclusion about what organisations need to do now to be successful, drive engagement and sustain that success moving forward.
The COVID pandemic has created more thoughtful organisations
The negative outcomes of the pandemic and the lockdown are plentiful and well-documented. Ryan starts by describing a positive: organisations have been forced to consider creating more personalised employee experiences. The best way they can do this is by using data to drive engagement.
Indeed, Ryan argues that this could be the key to delivering higher employee engagement numbers. Prior to the lockdown, engagement numbers had been at best stuck, and at worst falling. The employee engagement strategies that have been tried over and over have not worked, with significantly more disengaged than engaged employees. We haven’t been getting it right.
“The real change will come from changing and influencing mindsets and behaviour across the organisation; not just leaders and managers, but all individuals,” Ryan says.
The responsibility of organisations and their leaders is to tailor individual employee experiences that foster greater employee engagement.
You learn more when what you ask is relevant
Using current data, Ryan asserts that the standard annual employee engagement survey is not providing the insight that is needed. Data that is collected faster and more frequently enables greater dynamism, but is still only the catalyst to change.
What is important is that the questions you ask and the data you collect are relevant to the employees you are asking. During the COVID-19 lockdown, when you may have assumed that survey participation numbers would have fallen, Ryan says that numbers are up by a staggering 15% on average. The reason? People are being asked questions about COVID-19 and their experiences, thoughts, and ideas – and this is relevant to them, so therefore drives engagement.
How do you deliver tailored experiences to all employees?
While there are things that are important to the organisation – elements of their culture they don’t want to lose, for example – Ryan believes it is crucial for organisations to consider employees as individuals.
Organisations will need to garner feedback on factors such as well-being, career opportunities, leadership, and communications, but should move away from the traditional segmentation along lines of age or gender to do so.
“Doing more to understand and explore within particular roles, within particular parts of the business, and some of those sub-cultures … what are those kind of nuances, and what are some of the opportunities to flex and tailor things a little bit more?” Ryan advises.
Citing some examples, Ryan says, “Make sure that what you’re doing actually works for the different people inside your business.”
Considerations that organisations should make
Current survey results also show that collaboration between individuals, within teams, and across departments has improved despite many people working remotely. This appears to be a result of improved opportunities to interact and collaborate.
Managers will need to continue to work differently, driving engagement through better conversations with people and meeting the challenges of managing remote teams effectively. He says that organisations and leaders “need to understand how big an impact they will have on long-term engagement with the work they will be doing in response to this pandemic.”
Employees will be making bigger judgements about the integrity of their employees than ever before. Those organisations who are asking their people how they have been impacted, how they are feeling, and are actively seeking ideas on what the return to work should look like are experiencing huge boosts to employee engagement scores – with an average 25-point increase from before the pandemic.
Honesty is boosting employee engagement
Even those organisations that have been hardest hit have shown they can keep their employees engaged. Yes, sharing bad news can have a positive impact, provided it is communicated with empathy, honesty, and transparency.
People aren’t stupid. They read and watch the news. Where organisations can make a real and positive impact is by giving people the feeling that they have the control they need. It’s okay (and advisable) for organisations to admit their vulnerability.
Focusing on the employee experience is equally important during a recession
Craig asks Ryan if employee engagement strategies may take a backseat should the economy fall into recession. Ryan feels that this would be a big mistake. He believes that organisations can drive employee engagement by focusing on employee experience, by:
- Creating vibrant work environments
- Communicating and embedding a shared sense of purpose
- Fostering high levels of employee well-being
- Crafting jobs to people’s individual strengths and interests
- Developing empathetic and compassionate leaders
Culture is key in this. Summing up, Ryan says:
“None of us know what the future holds and none of us know exactly what the right path is to guide our businesses forward. So, ask your people. Involve them. Get their thoughts. Get their ideas. Let’s get through this. Let’s pull through this together.”
And he’s right. Because that really is the essence of a fully engaged workforce.
Ryan’s LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ryantahmassebi1986/