Employee Engagement: What Have We Learned Through the Pandemic?

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In 2020 we learned which companies embraced the benefits of a remote workforce and which companies engaged in remote work reluctantly, counting the minutes until a return to office plan could be established.  While some flourished and some faltered during this unprecedented time, we know what hasn’t changed is the measured business impact of engaged employees on productivity and growth.

Gallup has long studied and reported the significant improvement enhanced employee engagement can have on profitability, productivity, absenteeism, customer loyalty, and other business outcomes. Gallup focuses on educating employers to meet their employees’ 12 basic individual, teamwork, and growth needs with its famous Q12 survey.

Did you enter 2020 knowing where you stood with your employees’ 12 needs?

Pre-pandemic, a Gallup study found that only 3 in 10 employees are engaged with their company and work. The study also revealed that 5 in 10 employees are disengaged. Just going along for the ride…not really contributing any effort to drive the organization forward.

Worse yet the study indicated that 2 of every 10 employees are “actively disengaged” meaning they are working against your efforts.

If you entered a remote work model with ten employees, you’d have 2 trying to derail your success! But why would an employee try to derail your plan, especially with the sweet deal of work from home employment? No commute, no dry cleaning, no exposure. Why would an employee disengage in these circumstances?  It’s a great deal!

Isn’t it?

The fact is it doesn’t matter how great you think the deal is, or how great you think your company or the work is. What really matters is how connected your team feels to your mission. Do they know what your company stands for? Do they know where your company is headed? Do they feel empowered to make an impact and be part of the forward motion? Do they understand and believe in the purpose?

Even before this unprecedented year in which we pivoted, transitioned, mobilized, and realigned; employee engagement has been a critical issue in the workplace that demands the focus of leadership. Revenue and profit are logical priorities, but without active, effective employee engagement, research shows you will have an uphill battle to achieve exceptional business results. If we look at businesses that not only survived the pandemic but thrived during it, we will more likely than not find a high rate of employee engagement.

The consulting firm Senn-Delaney which has been focused since its founding on creating high-performance cultures captured what they call the “Culture Continuum” consisting of 6 levels from significantly disengaged organizations to those that are uber-engaged. Keeping it simple, here is each level as reflected by the thinking of leadership:

Level 0 – “We’re content with how we get things done.”

Level 1 – “Let’s do better, let’s get started.”

Level 2 – “As leaders, we drive the culture.”

Level 3 – “How does this impact our business?”

Level 4 – “Our employees’ experience is our customers’ experience.”

Level 5 – “Our culture is our greatest strategic asset.”

Pre-pandemic, some of these lower levels of measured engagement might have been easy enough to overlook or might have been intangible. But, standing here, today, with a successful 2020 business outcome, we’ve learned that engaged employees who have an emotional commitment to your organization and are willing to spend discretionary effort to achieve the organization’s goals are the keys to success.  Discretionary effort is the pixie dust of organizational success.

Prior to 2020, most businesses had crisis and issues management plans in place for business continuity. I think we’d all be surprised to learn about a business that had a plan in place for exactly what 2020 brought us.  But those businesses who already had a foundation of truly engaged employees who were willing to own and implement change and work within the unknown because they understood the overall mission, had the power to not only keep moving forward but to grow in a difficult time.

Creating a customer-centric culture through deeply engaged employees requires a top-down strategic effort. If your leadership views focus on driving revenue and profits through the lens of exceptional employee engagement, you’ll enter the next phase ahead of the rest.

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