Important Ways the Pandemic Changed Work (And What to Do About it!)
As you look back on the past two years in your organization, are you breathing a sigh of relief as you have persevered through so many unexpected challenges? Or are you weary from continually having to make decisions in the midst of uncertainty?
Many of us are looking forward to a season of normalcy in 2022 and beyond. But before we leave the pandemic and re-opening season behind us, what can we learn from this experience in terms of employee engagement? Are there intentional practices that we need to include in our organizations in order to have thriving teams and an engaged workforce as we move forward?
In this blog post, we will assess where we are and where we need to move in terms of employee engagement and workplace health:
- What does recent data tell us about the health of Christian workplaces?
- As you focused on urgent issues during the pandemic, did you drop some important employee engagement practices?
- How do we move forward to increased employee engagement and flourishing workplaces?
As Best Christian Workplaces Institute continued surveying employee engagement during the pandemic and the past year of re-opening, we have been surprised by some of the data. While we may have expected scores to be low in the first year of COVID restrictions, we have seen that a number of measures of employee health have gone down in the second year—during the phase of gradual opening up.
Declining Employee Engagement Scores
Trust in leadership is a key factor in a thriving organization. Employees were asked about their level of agreement with this statement: “There is a high level of trust between leaders and staff at my organization.” The proportion of employees who agree with this statement about trust in leadership declined significantly from the COVID year (April 2020 – February 2021) to this past year (since March 2021).
This decline in trust is accompanied by declines in rating their organization as an exceptional place to work, goal consensus, and retaining highly capable employees. Fewer employees agree with the statement that their organization has changed for the better over the past year.
All of these declines point to a major risk as disengaged employees lack trust in the leadership of their organization. Those who are not flourishing in their current workplace may look elsewhere for meaningful work. In a recent blog post, we looked at workplace trends for 2022 and how the “Great Resignation” puts employers at risk if they do not re-engage employees and move toward thriving.
Urgent versus Important
Perhaps you have spent the last few years responding to urgent issues that continued to pop up and demand your attention. Now is the time to consider what is important to long-term thriving and implement new practices or return to previously successful practices that rebuild trust and show your employees that you value them.
Charles Hummel wrote a short, now-classic Christian booklet called Tyranny of the Urgent. In it, he said, “Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important.”
Yes, as a leader you had to respond to many urgent issues over the past two years. But the important work of investing in your employees with uplifting growth, offering inspirational leadership, and a sustainable strategy needs to move to the forefront.
Important Areas of Focus Moving Forward
Now is the time to focus on the connection between employees and supervisors. There is no substitute for one-on-one interactions. These include regular meetings to check in as well as quarterly performance discussions. In addition to one-on-one time, larger employee gatherings offer an opportunity to inspire employees and offer affirmation and recognition.
It takes intentionality to keep up a schedule of one-on-one meetings, performance conversations, and larger staff gatherings. As a leader, you can model the importance of this interaction with those you manage. As you encourage them and demonstrate the value of relational investment, then mid-level and front-line supervisors will in turn invest in the relationships entrusted to them. There is no replacement for this intentional, focused time to engage employees and build a trust-based relationship. It is an important role of leadership and contributes to flourishing.
Regular One-on-One Meetings
One-on-one meetings provide an important function in a thriving organization:
- Space for quieter team members to speak up
- Individualized development and growth opportunities
- Getting to know employees (both remote and in-office) on a personal level
Effective one-on-one meetings should occur at least biweekly and last a minimum of 30 minutes. They provide an opportunity for employees and managers to regularly ask questions, listen to each other, and voice concerns. These meetings are a simple, effective strategy to bring clarity, focus, and energy to your team. When done well, a one-on-one setting is an ideal opportunity for managers to provide feedback to employees and personalized recognition.
Listening to your employees during one-on-one meetings will give you the opportunity to understand their workload and how they are navigating work-life balance. BCWI survey data shows that there has been a marked decline in employees’ perception of this factor of flourishing: “At my organization, we strive to help one another maintain life balance.”
If one-on-one meetings have fallen off your schedule due to urgent demands, it is time to consider them as important for long-term workplace health and add them into your schedule.
Read more about one-on-one meetings and how to make them part of your strategy in a recent BCWI blog post.
Quarterly Performance Conversations
Once you have a rhythm of regular one-on-one meetings with your staff, then you have a strong basis of relationship from which to have quarterly performance conversations.
Timely, specific feedback offers the following values to your organization and your employees:
- Clarify expectations
- Increase employee engagement
- Keep in tune with change
- Celebrate successes and find out in time if a correction is needed
- Ensure fair employment practices
Research shows a direct link between thriving organizations and effective feedback practices. Clear expectations and agreed-upon goals demonstrate that you value the work and abilities of your employees and want to help them keep growing. If you have reduced the frequency of performance conversations during the pandemic, now is the time to schedule these important employee development activities.
Employee Recognition and Appreciation
Along with regular one-on-one conversations and performance check-ins, perhaps your employees are missing out on the fun in their schedules! Time to celebrate accomplishments and even engage in silly activities together can bond a team and bring life to the workplace.
On a recent BCWI podcast episode, Dawn Pearcy from Calvary Chapel church and school in Fort Lauderdale talked about “How Celebration and Fun Can Build a Flourishing Workplace.” Here are some of her examples of celebration and fun:
We don’t want to wait until heaven to celebrate, and so we celebrate each other’s personal and professional milestones. When we finish a team project, we make sure that we celebrate that project. In our staff huddles, we recognize those who have birthdays or other personal news to celebrate. Sometimes celebration isn’t easy because we just move on to the next thing. So, we try to really focus and be intentional about stopping and recognizing what our staff has accomplished.
And then we have more spontaneous fun—all of a sudden ice cream appears for everyone or gift cards to the local coffee shop. We look for fun, engaging, unexpected opportunities to celebrate.
All staff gatherings—whether in person or online—offer another opportunity to recognize and appreciate the great work of teams and individuals. Verbal affirmation can include anything from a supervisor noticing someone’s effort, to peer feedback, to upper management specifically voicing appreciation for team members. Some employees may value written affirmation if they prefer not to be in the limelight. Also, small perks can be a meaningful way to recognize those who have gone over and above for a particular project. Include employee recognition and affirmation in the regular flow of your workplace to demonstrate how you value your employees. BWCI has put together ideas for appreciation and recognition in a white paper.
Hybrid Relationship Building
For many organizations, a return to everyone in the office is not a realistic expectation going forward. Many employees have embraced the convenience of a hybrid work model and will continue at least some remote work practices into the future. If you were waiting out the pandemic to build relationships and now want to resume “water cooler conversations”—it is time to look for new practices that will build connection and engagement—practices that don’t depend on physical proximity.
With hybrid work styles, employees might feel like their supervisor is unaware of how hard they are working or what they are accomplishing. At the same time, supervisors might be unclear as to what the workflow for their employees is like in real life. Positive and honest conversations about workflow, milestones, and best practices can reassure both the employee and the supervisor about specific accomplishments.
One simple and practical way to strengthen relationships is to require everyone to turn on their camera for online meetings. Giselle Jenkins, BCWI consultant says, “You can’t build relationship without being face-to-face and if someone won’t turn their camera on, it begins to erode trust.” Having cameras on also gives the supervisor the opportunity to monitor reactions and body language as discussions progress.
Since online meetings are often very agenda-driven, build in time for conversation and relationship. The connection that may have happened previously in the break room now needs to be part of the virtual room. To help facilitate community, schedule time, in the beginning, to connect and encourage people to chat. Often virtual team members only “see” each other during team calls. Relational time is not an extra on the agenda, but an important component of working together.
For more ideas on relationship-building see a previous BCWI blog post on Why Good Supervisors are Key in Building a Remote Work Culture that Works.
Continuing to Rebuild Trust
As you implement or re-invigorate your practices of listening to employees and encouraging healthy relationships within teams, you are investing in a foundation of trust with your employees. While the pandemic period and the difficulties of the past year in re-opening have taken a toll on employee engagement, your workplace can return to thriving. The practices of listening, affirming, recognizing, and encouraging individuals and teams are foundational.
Even if the next crisis or uncertainty that your organization faces is not related to a global pandemic, when your employees see that you care about their work, their families, their lives, and their flourishing, they will recommit to their work. And in the midst of uncertainty, as leaders continue to communicate honestly and inspire faithfulness, flourishing teams will follow suit.
This blog post has focused on practices that are foundational to employees’ flourishing, particularly in terms of relationships. However, underlying all the practical steps you can take, your character as a leader is important. In my new book, Road to Flourishing, I explore the character of leaders:
There are many positive character qualities in leaders that correlate with a flourishing workplace culture, but we can narrow them down to three.
The first is trustworthiness. Employee surveys closely associate integrity, honesty, and transparency in leaders with a flourishing workplace. Inspirational leaders are perceived as direct, truthful, reliable, and consistent.
The second is care. In organizations with a flourishing culture, employees know that their leaders genuinely care about their well-being as people. Leadership consistently demonstrates compassion toward the people they lead, and they speak with gentleness even when confronting difficult situations.
The third is selflessness, especially in decision-making. Inspirational leaders put the interests of Christ and the people he has called the organization to serve first, employees second, and themselves last. They demonstrate considerable humility, not seeking to protect their egos, not operating in a self-seeking way, and paying careful attention to the ideas and contributions of the people around them.
As you lead your team forward in 2022 and beyond, where do you need to focus to build a flourishing workplace?
First, evaluate your own leadership. As you dealt with urgent matters that cropped up during the past two years, did you neglect important practices that lead to employee engagement and a healthy workplace? Perhaps an Employee Engagement Survey would provide the data you need to focus your attention on factors that lead to flourishing.
Then, intentionally schedule important practices of one-on-one employee meetings, quarterly performance conversations, and overall employee appreciation and recognition.
If your workplace is continuing with some remote and some in-person work, be sure to maximize the opportunities for relational connection among individuals and teams in a hybrid setting.
Even as you implement practical steps for improving employee engagement, remember that it is important to look within and continue to humbly grow as a leader of character, who is worthy of the trust of your people.