Knowledge Leadership: Employee Engagement Insights During COVID-19

Knowledge Leadership: Employee Engagement Insights During COVID-19

By Pat Hirst, Senior Consultant – HR Consulting

“Knowledge is defined as the understanding of or information about a subject  that you get by experience and study”

Source: Cambridge Dictionary

Knowledge Leadership

Traditionally, leaders have subscribed to the adage that information is power.  However, today as we drown in a flood of information from multiple sources, we realize that information is not the competitive advantage; knowledge is!  Knowledge is the result of taking information and applying it in a hands-on way, to discover what works. Through their insight and courage to transform concepts into actionable tools and best practices, leaders create a culture of knowledge leadership and high performance. COVID-19 has given us the perfect storm in which to test information and theories about remote work and put them into practice.

CPHR Executive Virtual Breakfast with Knowledge Leaders

People Corporation and People First HR were privileged to host a group of 30 senior leaders, from a breadth of industries, during our fall Executive breakfast with CPHR. The topic; Engagement in the Time of COVID-19. The results; a wealth of insight, experience and best practices shared by knowledge leaders for all to apply.

The pandemic has impacted the Canadian and global workforce in many unforeseen ways.  The decision for many employers to start a remote workforce was made quickly in response to public health orders.  Employee engagement (EE) is one area that has been impacted by this action.

Prior to COVID, EE was supported through transparency in leadership and enhanced communication strategies.  The pandemic has for the most part removed physical engagement opportunities.

Gallup Polls reports huge fluctuations in EE throughout COVID-19. The biggest change is a 4% increase in employees who are actively disengaged; reflecting a drop in engagement of managers, who are fatigued and disheartened with the constant churn.

We posed the question to the leaders in our session, “How has engagement in your organization changed since COVID-19?”

In an on-line survey, 74% indicated a slight decrease in engagement, 21% indicated a slight increase in engagement and 5% noted no change.

What pandemic related factors are impacting Engagement?

Two stressors have been identified across several sectors of the economy since the beginning of the quarantine; psychological health and financial well-being.

According to Harvard Business Review, 53% of employees feel more exhausted, and 45% report the stress and anxiety of COVID-19 has had a negative impact on their mental health (National Law Review).

Employee Benefits are a Critical Part of Supporting Employees During the Pandemic

HR professionals have been forced to pivot to other tools, benefits and programs for supporting engagement in a remote environment. Reassessing programs will ensure that employee benefits and health services are still meeting the needs of a remote workforce during and after the pandemic.

Psychological Health

Employers are focusing on enhancements to current mental health offerings by adding components of telemedicine or virtual healthcare to improve availability and access to resources.  Statistics show that 20% of employers have added virtual health to their benefit program and over 50% of employers surveyed (June 2020 IFEP Report) have invested in improving mental health offerings. 

Financial well-being

Additionally, 38% of employers surveyed experienced a hiring freeze, 28% were forced to lay off workers, 20% reduced available hours and 17% reported the use of unpaid leave (IFEP).  Providing financial planning advice as a service through group insurance programs can be a cost-effective way for employees experiencing financial stress to weather this storm.

Best Practices for Engagement during COVID-19

Our leaders shared their best practices for engaging teams on-site and working remotely during COVID-19:

  • Be flexible. Offering split shifts, a mix of working at home and on-site, or adjusted work hours provide options
  • Stay safe. Provide COVID safe procedures, PPE and social distancing
  • Listen. Acknowledge your team’s experiences and address their concerns
  • Keep in contact with remote staff. Leaders managing dispersed teams check in regularly
  • Encourage time off & self-care.
  • Keep employees on LOA engaged.
  • Keep Checking. There is no better time to understand employee needs than during a crisis.
  • Pivot, Pivot, Pivot – this pandemic is a long way from over. Agility prevails

For as much as leaders have learned and succeeded during COVID, they also shared there is more to learn. Some key challenges remain:

  • On-Boarding. Hiring a candidate virtually is challenging and orientation can seem impossible
  • Sadness.  The emotional toll of COVID-19 has left employees exhausted, fatigued and in need of emotional support.
  • Socializing & Connection. Making the effort to schedule virtual social time can help employees who miss human connections

A final survey question was asked of the group, “What words pop in your head, concerning engagement, as you leave the session?” The most frequent responses included communication, passion, commitment, creativity and connection. It is no surprise that our group of leaders used “people focused” words to describe engagement, a people focused endeavor.  We will continue to learn about engagement through the changing landscape of COVID-19 and we will continue to share what we have learned. This is knowledge leadership in action.