Prepare for Your 6-Month Reality Check

Prepare for Your 6-Month Reality Check

There’s no doubt that your organization has experienced radical change during this time of COVID-19 – It seems no industry was spared from furloughs, layoffs or reduced salaries. Leaders needed to make tough decisions that greatly impacted the lives of exiting employees along with those who remain.

With leaders’ focus on daily business operations while modifying and rolling out their safe return to office plans, it leaves little time for thinking ahead to 2021 strategies. Where does employee engagement fit into this?

The remaining employees at your organization right now likely feel grateful for their continued employment. Maybe they’ve volunteered or willingly taken on additional responsibilities of their impacted counterparts and are learning new technologies and skills to innovate. Fast forward six months…

  • An employee started to feel disengaged pre-COVID after an average review and merit increase. How will they feel about taking on the additional work of their former co-workers long-term plus a 15% reduction in pay for 6 months?
  • An employee was on track for the next supervisory opportunity on your team pre-COVID – this position is postponed indefinitely yet they’ve increasingly taken on additional leadership responsibilities for the past year. How will they respond to the headhunter call in 6 months for a similar promotion outside of your organization?
  • A highly tenured employee’s two closest work friends were impacted due to COVID. What will they do when those friends both find employment at another organization together and share that their new employer is hiring?

While the job market is dismal right now and your current workforce is likely not active in their job search, six months from now could be a different scenario. Economists predict a slow decline in U.S. unemployment rates over the next two years from the record high in Q3 2020. What can you do today for each of these example (and quite possibly real) employees and your entire team to encourage work satisfaction, engagement and commitment to your organization?

Perhaps it’s time to get back to basics to move positively beyond this time of upheaval with employee engagement as a priority. Here’s how:

Foundational Values

Sarah recently discussed that holding true to your core values as the foundation of your organization is a key tenet to success. Infusing your values into every employee touchpoint unites teams and connects employees to your organization.

Heightened Communication

Organizations have mastered the new ways to communicate with their now remote teams over the past few months and some may feel they’ve overcommunicated. Don’t lose focus here or your employees will start to feel out of sight – out of mind. Whether you are in a phased return to the office or maintaining a remote workforce, continue to use the tools and strategies that have been working well for company updates, video meetings and fun workplace contests that keep employees attentive and connected. Top leadership should transparently address actions the organization is taking to reduce the need for additional layoffs if a second wave of COVID hits. Task employees at every level in the ideation around those actions – the results of this simple exercise will not only build confidence and trust but opportunities for innovation as well.

Confidence Through Connection

Ideally your employees’ feedback was considered as you planned for returning to the office. Keep that loop going with quick pulse surveys on topics that will be actioned on and share those efforts with the team. After you’ve returned to the office, ask employees how the change is going and what concerns they have.

Take this further by putting a twist on traditional stay interviews – don’t simply ask employees a list of questions but first share your thoughts and experiences in an authentic way to encourage open conversation. You’ll show that you’re taking personal interest in them and build trust. Leaders should be meeting one-on-one with their direct reports even while virtual.
Here are Five Foundational Human Needs Questions for leaders to discuss with their individual team members right now:

  • 1. This is what’s keeping me up at night this week… What is on your mind lately? In uncertain times, this simple “how are you?” type of question is so important.
  • 2. Begin by reinforcing confidence around specific decisions that have been made. Example: “We made some really tough business decisions with the recent layoffs to set us up for the future. I’d like our remaining talent to feel as secure as possible but understand that can be difficult right now.” How secure are you feeling with your role and how business is going?
  • 3. How is your current workload? Do you need my support with prioritization?
  • 4. This is where I’m trying to balance my life in this new world (share an example). Is there anything you’re struggling with finding balance or flexibility that I can support you with?
  • 5. What is something I could start/stop/change for you but you’re hesitant to ask for?

Leaders can support their people through the loss of impacted employees by recognizing their absence. Share what you miss about specific employees and ask your employee what they are missing about them. Most farewells happened virtually and the reality of those missing employees may not be felt until you slowly return to the physical office or may re-surface upon that return. Consider and share the services that your Employee Assistance Program may offer.

Upskilling Recognition

Some of your employees may have taken on two or three other employees’ responsibilities during this transition. Encourage your team to add those learnings and accomplishments to their performance reviews. In six months, leaders should be able to determine whether these additional responsibilities will stay and can update job descriptions accordingly. Consider what skills your team members have had to learn on the fly that you can provide additional or formal training for. What continuous learning do you need to plan for with the new tools, technologies and responsibilities your team now has? Ask your employees how you can support them in gaining confidence during this transition. And while you may not be able to financially recognize employees who have stepped up during this transition right now, you can extend your gratitude and recognize their efforts in many ways. Call out employees who are going above and beyond in company communications or team meetings and tie their efforts back to your core values or start a gratitude program where leaders and employees can nominate their fellow employees. Gratitude and recognition don’t have to come with a hefty price tag.

Shift your focus to employee engagement now and build strength there – the heavy lifting is far from over.

humanworks can support you with your employee engagement strategy. Visit our services page for details or start the conversation by sending a message to Rebecca at