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.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for robust, nuanced, and responsive employee engagement surveys. With employee needs changing rapidly, it’s critical for HR professionals to understand how their workforce is feeling in the moment and over time. But while employee surveys can provide these answers and more, the quality of the data obtained is often directly proportional to the quality of the surveys themselves. Surveys that are poorly worded or not fully thought through can be more susceptible to a range of response biases, such as the desire to present oneself in a positive light or the tendency to gravitate toward categories expressing disagreement. These biases can skew the survey results, presenting an inaccurate picture of life at the company. But even if every response obtained is truthful and balanced, if few employees actually finish the survey, that picture will always be incomplete.
By now, you’ve probably seen the statistics about the link between diversity and business performance. One 2018 study found that companies with above-average diversity on their management teams report innovation revenue that is 19 percentage points higher than that of companies with below-average leadership diversity. And 2017 research shows that decisions made and executed by diverse teams deliver 60% better results.
We have a very social team. Everyone loves to spend time with each other inside and outside of the office; we often joke that “FOMO” must be one of our core values. When our New York City-based team was advised to work from home, the first thing we did was try to coordinate a date when we’d all be able to come in together during the following week or two. Of course, this was before we knew how quickly the COVID-19 virus would spread in the New York metro area and how seriously we should heed the “stay at home” warnings. As we’ve learned, things change quickly.
Many articles are written about organizational change. But when the business changes, so does HR. The change might be big or maybe small. But HR changes. Today, instead of talking about how companies manage change, let’s talk about how HR departments manage change (while their company is in transition). Just like individual change isn’t the same as organizational change, department change isn’t always the same as organizational change. Changes that benefit the organization can change the way a department operates. Here are two examples:
One of the reasons I’ve always loved employee surveys is the potential effect the results can have on leaders. In some cases, a survey is the first time a leader truly hears and considers the perspective of employees. It can truly change their mindset and view of the organization. Notice, I said “potential effect.” The kind of impact I describe is only possible when those leaders are committed to and care about hearing the employees’ feedback. If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably had many experiences where that simply wasn’t the case.