COVID cases continue to surge nationwide, and new statewide restrictions around social distancing are being put in place. Schools are in a constant state of flux with many offering a complicated and confusing hybrid of in-person and remote learning. Senior care facilities remain high risk.

On a positive note, working remotely provides your employees the flexibility they need to safely isolate, educate their children, and care for family members. Indeed, working in a virtual environment seems like the ideal pandemic solution.

Businesses who never offered remote work before are now embracing it. A recent State of Remote Work survey found that 84.5% of companies intend to continue offering some remote work options after the pandemic. Some, like Twitter, have even instituted a permanent remote working policy.

Despite all of the benefits, some challenges have emerged.

The State of Engagement

With all the initial benefits of working remotely, employee engagement reached an all-time high of 38% in early May as measured by Gallup as companies over communicated and sought to reassure rattled workers.

However, a mere month later there was a significant drop in employee engagement to 31%.

Another month later, engagement went up and then back down again. Engagement is in a volatile state. Keep in mind that 64% of people are either not engaged or actively disengaged at work.

Thats a big number.

Engaged employees are “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace.”

~ Gallup

What is going on?

Today’s employees are not dealing with one thing, but rather multiple things at once. Since the beginning of the pandemic, US employees and managers are less likely to feel well prepared to do their jobs and employee preparedness contributes to employee engagement. This is determined by factors such as feeling clear about your role; having the right materials and equipment to do your job; having the opportunity to do what you do best; having strongly committed coworkers; and working with a common mission or purpose.

Working in a virtual environment further contributes to reduced engagement given these challenges:

  • Lack of work/life balance
  • Unclear expectations and communication
  • Zoom fatigue
  • Social isolation

It is important to note that we are used to keeping various aspect of our lives separate. We usually go to work, and then come home. Our recreation occurs in specific places as does our workouts, gatherings, etc. Our activities have defined spaces and context. For the past 10 months work, parenting, friends, family, and everything else –  is all happening in the same space and frequently at the same time.

Imagine if you go to a bar, and in the same bar you talk with your professors, meet your parents, or date someone, isn’t it weird? 

~ Gianpiero Petriglieri, Associate Professor at Insead

The result for employees is burnout; a state where you lose all motivation or incentive, leading to feelings of depression or stress. In a recent study by Korn Ferry, 60% of employees are facing burnout as compared to 45% last April. Over 40% of people say their mental health has declined since the outbreak.

Interestingly, the most recent drop is in managers (not executive leaders or individual contributors). This is critical because managers set the tone for the engagement of the people who report to them.

According to Gallup research, management has a stronger influence on employee burnout than overall hours worked. Since the pandemic began many employees are facing a rise in burnout risk. Employee engagement is a strong predictor of performance, especially during tough times like the economic recession we are currently experiencing.

Agile, empathetic, and strategic leadership from managers can make a significant difference. Management needs to be trained to do these things in a virtual environment.

When employees are inspired, motivated, and supported in their work, they naturally do more work – and that work is significantly less stressful.

~ Gallup

The Good News

The silver lining is that, for proactive organizations that implemented employee engagement measures and interventions during COVID-19, employee engagement was not negatively impacted.

This is why employee engagement needs to be your #1 Priority for 2021. As a leader, you need to do all you can to maintain and improve employee engagement.

It is time to redesign the employee experience for the ‘new normal.’

It is time address an important question. What can you do to keep your employees happy, productive, and – most importantly – engaged at work?

© Blue Skies Strategy Coaching 2018

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