I have been working on employee engagement for more than a decade, initially I fell into it as a natural evolution of internal communication.
Then, the passion for team dynamics and human engagement hooked me deeply. However, for years I felt I had to justify and explain my job to most people, including to those who hired me!
Often, the question I was asked was: ‘Don’t you think employee engagement is just a nice to have?’
And now… (you can probably hear my sight of relief and a tip of victory): employee engagement has never been soooo relevant.
Finally, leaders are now asking their people, every day, how are you?
Finally, everyone is talking about employees’ mental health.
Finally, companies really go beyond protecting and caring for their people.
However, the question is how do we engage with employees in this time of Covid?
I suggest you see this crisis as a sort of resilience training: resilience is the capacity for change, as Carole Pemberton writes. The idea is that we bend and stretch like an elastic, and we never get back to what we used to be. We adapt. We flex.
So, start your employee engagement with the aim to shift their and your perspective around this crisis. It’s through adversities that we develop our resilience skills.
- How are you? Asking this question has now a different flavour, or it should have. We are not just saying ‘Hi, you alright?’, we are saying ‘Hey, tell me about your fears. I am here to help you to contain them’. As a leader, think about how and if you are ready to listen and contain anxiety, uncertainty and fears. It’s easy to give up to the temptation of wanting to minimise someone’s feelings, but try and just let them come. Validate emotions. Sometimes, all people want is to be listened.
- Talk about the importance of uncertainty. Believe it or not, navigating uncertainty is already a very sought after skill. Talk about what uncertainty means for your team. What skills we can develop during such a time, like creativity, problem solving, resilience, learning. Yes, talk about learning as a skill and adopting a growth mindset, rather than remaining intrinsically rigid.
- Your level of comfort. As we ease down the lockdown, it might be important to explore what your team is comfortable doing. We have been saying that we are in a new normality, but things change fast, what feelings have they got in regard to the new change? What would they rather not do? What are they happy to do? How can you support them through this transition and beyond?
- Purpose. This is a great time for reflection. Even if you are at home, overwhelmed by work and parents’ duties, this is a time where consciously and unconsciously we are revaluating our career choices and purposes. As a leader, reconnect you and your team to that purpose. Why are you part of this organisation? How important it is your contribution to the mission of the organisation? What are you prioritising? What meaning can you find in this time?
- Be and stay human. You might be a leader, but you are above all a human being, navigating the uncertainty of a pandemic. Vulnerability is an act of courage, as Brene Brown says, so don’t be afraid of showing your struggle or challenges. It will help your team to connect with you. Embrace humanity and make it a strength.
- Time for bold leadership. With all is going on the truth is that leaders are left even more alone to make tough decisions such as to lay off people, to put some on furlough, or to totally change strategy. Or you might decide to become bravely creative and hugely invest in wellbeing, making Friday as a day off for everyone to avoid burnout. It can be tough. What is important to remember are the principles of responsibility, clarity, transparency and listening. You might not get the full agreement and support of the team, but the way you show up during a crisis is most likely the way you will be remembered. Tell them about these principles and ask how they can reflect them in everyday team-work.
- Optimism. Shift yours and your team’s mindset from a passive hope to a realistic optimism. What are the signs that things are going well, at least in part? What strengths can we play with? What is that one thing we are learning through this crisis that will help us move forward even if this uncertainty might last for longer?
- Finally, look after yourself. Even if you might not realise it straightaway, your mental state has a profound impact on your team. Lead by example. I know it’s difficult, but put your mask on first before helping the person next to you. So, essentially, I am saying: eat well, do exercise, talk to someone you trust, look after what is important to you as an individual, rediscover your purpose and … practice self-compassion. After all, we are all trying to do the best we can …
If you feel you can’t do everything on your own, I am here to help you. See this time as an opportunity to cultivate a different mindset for the future. Ping me when you are ready!