How COVID-19 Has Heightened the Need for Employee Engagement Surveys
Est. Read Time: 3 min.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the idea that this unprecedented situation could be anything other than temporary was almost inconceivable. Employees talked about “when things get back to normal,” and managers planned for short-term disruption, rather than long-term change.
Now, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the pandemic will likely continue through the end of the year—or longer—and have lasting effects. As the situation continues to unfold, many companies are realizing they need to become more responsive to the evolving needs of their workforces. The same strategies that worked in a pre-pandemic world (or even a month ago) may not work today, and words that once inspired and motivated employees may now be the source of anxiety and stress.
As a result, it’s more critical than ever for HR to have a firm understanding of how employees are feeling from one week to the next—and what they need to feel supported. This will enable companies to not only keep productivity and engagement high today, but improve retention and loyalty in the long run.
Here are some things to consider when measuring employee engagement in the era of COVID-19—and beyond.
A complex and rapidly changing situation requires a nimble response
With countless employees working from home, managers have recognized the need to check in more often—whether it’s a quick email, phone call, or one-on-one. While these touchpoints are certainly important, they don’t tell the full story. With many employees anxious about their job security, some may be hesitant to admit they’re struggling or that they have concerns about policies or plans. Others may simply be uncomfortable discussing their thoughts and feelings about this complex situation with their boss.
The anonymity offered by employee surveys can increase the likelihood that people will share their true feelings, but traditional survey methods often fall short. In the time it takes to manually collect and review the survey results, the worries of one week may have been supplanted by the concerns of the next—especially now, with new information about the pandemic and its economic impact emerging on an almost hourly basis. Human error and bias can also enter the process, with every reviewer interpreting the data a little differently—and potentially glossing over glaring issues.
Adopting cloud-based survey solutions powered by artificial intelligence (AI) eliminates these challenges, giving HR teams the agility and big-picture insight required to implement the changes that count. Surveys can be executed at scale on a rolling basis, making it easier for HR to track changes and trends over time—like how employees feel about leadership’s response to and communication throughout the pandemic.
This also allows HR to spot the difference between a fleeting concern and an ongoing issue employees are facing. For example, in the initial weeks of working from home, some employees may have felt less productive or engaged than usual. A one-time survey conducted during those weeks may have led HR to believe they had a major problem—even if employees found their stride soon after. On the other hand, if the company was sending out AI-powered surveys on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, HR would quickly recognize that the problem had resolved itself, allowing them to deploy their resources elsewhere.
When there is a pressing issue, these tools lend HR the agility to step in when it matters most. Compared to the weeks or even months it may take HR or outside consultants to review survey results manually, AI can analyze hundreds of thousands of data points simultaneously, generating actionable and unbiased insights in real time. These insights also go far beyond the surface level, analyzing the sentiment behind employees’ words. So even if an employee feels compelled to put on a brave face for their manager, it’s highly probable that their survey results will unearth any underlying anxieties, empowering HR to provide the support they need.
With some employees disproportionately impacted, nuanced analysis is critical
Another benefit of AI-powered employee survey solutions is their ability to segment data by demographic, allowing HR to better understand which groups of employees require additional support.
While every employee has been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, some have been affected worse than others. As the saying goes, we’re all in the same storm, but not in the same boat.
For instance, a recent BCG survey found that on average, working parents have spent an additional 27 hours per week on domestic household chores, childcare, and education since the pandemic began—on top of the household responsibilities they already performed. That’s essentially the equivalent of working a second job, putting this group at high risk of burnout. But if managers are unaware of how much additional strain working parents on their team are dealing with, they may inadvertently add to employees’ stress by assigning workloads or deadlines that are unmanageable in their current situation.
Modern survey tools allow HR professionals to track as many demographic fields as they choose without sacrificing confidentiality—and add more demographics later if they realize they have blind spots. In doing so, they can quickly evaluate differences in sentiment among different groups, like how remote workers feel right now compared to those who have to remain onsite, and whether employees with dependents are more or less engaged than those without.
This level of nuance is rarely possible with traditional surveys, which can only be segmented so many ways before it becomes mentally overwhelming for the reviewers. As a result, HR may end up with a blanket view of employee engagement and well-being that doesn’t account for real issues certain groups are experiencing. AI, meanwhile, can segment data infinite ways in mere milliseconds, allowing HR to develop a highly targeted and impactful response.
Important in the long run, but critical now
Improving your company’s ability to measure and monitor employee engagement will put you in a strong position to support your workforce for years to come. But the time to get started is now—because employees need you more than ever.
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About Laura Zifchak (Poggi)
Laura leads the marketing team for the PeopleDoc by Ultimate Software products in North America. She joined PeopleDoc in January 2015 to help HR teams learn about HR Service Delivery technology, understand how it benefits their existing business strategies, and become expert users of our platform as customers.
Laura has experience with bringing technical software solutions to market with prior leadership positions at both IBM and RTTS. She has an MBA from CUNY Baruch Zicklin School of Business, and a BS degree in Marketing from Siena College.
With years of practice managing teams through rapid growth and constant change, Laura is passionate about employee and manager experience, and using technology to help scale and improve operations.