With the pandemic rolling on past all early predictions, employers are now looking for longer-term ways of boosting and sustaining employee engagement to suit new ways of working. With teams working from home wherever possible, many organisations have reported morale taking a hit and engagement slumping. Read this factsheet to understand how other employers are handling common employee engagement challenges.
What’s the latest information and insight?
While employee engagement has always been important, the pandemic has put it at the top of the business agenda. 55% of businesses now say that maintaining or achieving high levels of employee engagement is a key workforce priority for the coming year. (CBI Employment Trends Survey 2020).
The CIPD’s Good Work Index shows that 67% of employees agree that their employers have been supportive during the pandemic, with 7 in 10 reporting that their line manager has checked in on their health and wellbeing. However, 44% report that social connections in the workplace have suffered. This rises to 50% for those not attending their usual workplace.
Considerations for businesses
Onboarding when you can’t be there in person
The businesses we’ve spoken to have suggested that onboarding is a tale of two parts, with incredibly different experiences for experienced professionals vs. those just coming into the workplace. Whereas those with experience tend to feel comfortable asking questions, and are familiar with common systems and processes, those earlier in their career journey can find they second-guess themselves, miss not being able to ask a quick, silly question and feel guilty putting in phone calls to resolve issues, worrying it’s a drain on time. They also miss building relationships outside their own teams, and for some people, the opportunity to build their social networks.
But there are practical actions business leaders can put in place to help the virtual onboarding process. Here are just some of the steps that other firms have put in place:
1. Map your onboarding process and ask for feedback
Begin by mapping your current onboarding experience. What are the different steps involved? From the practical, such as setting up IT equipment and getting to grips with systems and processes, to the social, such as key inductions and opportunities to engage with other staff. Ask some recent new starters for feedback, particularly in terms of where they have faced challenges. Taking an honest look at what is and isn’t working will help provide valuable insights to improve your employees’ onboarding experience.
2. Get started with a great first day
A great first day begins when your equipment shows up on time – it’s important not to underestimate the importance of new starters being able to fully set up and join in from the get-go. But getting computers up and working is only the first step – consider how and who will get new starters up to speed on organisational and team systems and processes. Having a thorough run-through of things like software used, teams’ folders, HR systems can be especially helpful for those with less or no office experience. Furthermore, with those working from home, it’s still important to do a DSE assessment to check they have a safe work environment.
3. Make use of a buddy programme and facilitate network-building
Setting up new starters with a ‘buddy’ from another team, ideally someone at a similar experience level, means an additional formal contact who may feel more approachable than a line manager in terms of questions about organisational culture and systems. It can also encourage new starters to get to know teams outside of their own working sphere, helping to broaden networks. One law firm has focused on ensuring all new starters have multiple touchpoints across the business, which has saved line managers being bombarded with every question, as well as giving a better insight into other teams as well as organisational culture.
4. Have clear markers for checking in
With many people working virtually, it can be difficult to see when people are struggling, particularly new joiners who may not feel comfortable expressing problems to colleagues they may have never met in person. By putting in regular check-ins as specific points in the onboarding journey, businesses are more likely to identify and remedy barriers preventing people from being effective in their roles.
5. Rethink your training
Training that was once delivered in person may need re-thinking. People working from home will already be clocking up a lot of screen-time – so consider how you can streamline training to be delivered online. There may also be new training that’s needed. For example, some members we spoke to have recorded virtual tours of their offices to give employees a sense of what to expect when they finally do return to the office. One tech consultancy found that a 90-second onboarding intro video was incredibly helpful in outlining and helping people understand their onboarding journey.
6. Use all available channels
So many firms have reported many unplanned benefits of homeworking – including less hierarchy and more communication across layers. But this can only happen with the right internal communications channels – which must foster collaboration between colleagues, not only updates from the top down (although these are important). Make sure you leverage available channels – whether that’s Microsoft Teams, WebEx or WhatsApp to enable people to connect.
Performance reviews in an unprecedented year
The top question we’re hearing from business leaders on this: how can you evaluate performance in the normal way when so many employees have gone above and beyond? When traditional methods of performance review usually only allow for exceptional ratings for the very top performers, how will that system work when reflecting on 2020? And with many working families balancing childcare and supporting vulnerable loved ones – what about those who may not have been able to work at full capacity?
Regardless of the situation, many employees will have had to adapt to major and long-lasting changes, continuing to power organisations from their kitchen tables, going above and beyond to help firms pivot business models and survive the pandemic.
There are some simple principles businesses can put in place to achieve fair performance review processes that take into account the ups and downs of this year:
- Encourage line managers to have regular conversations about performance objectives, so that when it’s time for formal reviews, there are no surprises
- Carefully consider caring responsibilities that may have made it difficult for employees to work at their normal full capacity
- Where appropriate, focus on the quality of work rather than the quantity – such as for parents looking after young children, or where workers may have been furloughed
- Recognise where additional work may have impacted an individual’s ability to deliver on the original objectives; update those objectives where appropriate to reflect their contributions
- Consider how to recognise where employees have gone the extra mile to deliver for the business, going beyond their objectives
- Be conscious of the impact of difficult feedback when people are working at home, where the separation of work and home is harder to achieve; consider your organisational approach and ensure line managers are equipped to have tough conversations
- Communicate your approach openly and make it clear where employees can ask questions
- Based on your business' individual circumstances, question whether performance reviews need to be postponed or approached differently.
Facilitating collaboration and maintaining company culture
Virtual working has helped many businesses realise just how important the physical environment is to company culture. It has the spaces which bring people together – for collaboration as well as for important social and teambuilding moments. It also contains those all-important hints and clues about company culture: are the spaces geared towards team working? Are they informal? Is there a focus on project or independent-working?
That doesn’t mean collaboration and a positive, inclusive culture can’t happen virtually too – it just means organisations need to change their approach.
Top tips for virtual away days
Virtual away days, when properly run, can be a great way of bringing teams together. The CBI’s Innovation and Digital team put together these top tips for virtual away days after speaking to members about what worked for them.
- Consider flexible working patterns when scheduling virtual away days so everyone can attend and feel included
- Include plenty of breaks to give people a chance to step away from their screens
- Have a mix of sessions and activities, with a blend of both listening and discussing
- Consider using virtual teambuilding such as escape rooms to add some fun and help people connect on a more personal level
- Schedule an external speaker where possible to give a fresh perspective
- Use smaller breakout groups where you can to encourage discussion
- Use tech to help you achieve your objectives; from brainstorming with virtual post-its, to voting, to keeping to time.
Ways to maintain a positive culture when everything is online
We’ve heard some ingenious ideas from businesses across the UK who have tried different approaches to moving that intangible asset – their company’s culture – entirely online. Here are some ideas of how other firms have approached the challenge:
- Coffee roulette: this aims to recreate the experience of popping into the kitchen and making a chat with whoever is by the kettle, by assigning random coffee chats to people who sign up
- CEO town halls: with the chance for employees to ask questions and interact with the senior team; this is a great way to help everyone feel connected, and clear about the sense of direction their company is taking
- Digital away days: with lots of interactive online events; these can be a nice chance for colleagues to share their passions with others
- Social calls: try holding regular team social calls in work hours that aren’t for talking about work; you can encourage team members to share a passion, run a workshop, play games, or just chat
- Local meetings: one Yorkshire housing association has created local community hubs to enable workers to meet in small, safe, socially distant groups in their localities (where the rules allow), to support people’s mental health and need for connection
- Wellbeing hub: ensure you have a robust wellbeing hub where employees can find the most up-to-date resources, policies, support and guidance
- Share real stories: for example, one design and consultancy firm ran a ‘life in lockdown’ series to share different people’s experiences
- Lead by example: for example, one technology company ran a work-life balance campaign that included its senior leaders sharing how they spend time on their breaks, to encourage others to do the same
- Recognise hard work: consider how your business could recognise employees who have gone the extra mile, whether that’s verbally, in a staff newsletter, with awards, rewards and even online celebrations where recognition is needed across the organisation
- Encourage relationship building: one firm in the North East runs a weekly 'FA Cup Draw' – names are drawn at random, home and away; it is the responsibility of the 'home' person to call the 'away' person each day for a week
- Use open questions: ask questions more openly – in big team chats rather than private chats – so others can see what you’re up to and share ideas. This helps replicate asking questions in an open office which other people might overhear and engage with.
Maintaining resilience over the winter months
Employees have already been dealing with the consequences of the pandemic for nine months in both their work and personal lives; many are fatigued and resilience is low. This, coupled with the fact that winter is already a difficult time for many, has created a real mental health challenge, resulting in low morale for many employers.
The government has updated its guidance on mental health and wellbeing to reflect these challenges.
Support and guidance for employers:
- Mental Health at Work – containing resources for organisations, HR professionals, line managers and employees, including a coronavirus toolkit
- Talking toolkit – a HSE resource to help employers have conversations with workers to identify and prevent work-related stress
- Government paper on staying mentally well this winter – signposting resources for individuals as well as employers.
For more detailed guidance and considerations on mental health, we encourage employers to view our factsheet on mental health in a crisis.
- Factsheet: supporting employees to work from home
- Factsheet: mental health and wellbeing in a crisis
- The future of home working
Coming soon: look out for a new CBI practical guide on how businesses can adopt hybrid working, featuring real case studies from other firms and ideas of how to address common challenges, such as how employers will need to change the way they manage, train, engage and lead their teams.
- CIPD guide on supporting employee mental health
- Timewise: Insights from employers on supporting staff during Covid-19
- Timewise: How to improve virtual meetings and engage teams
- CMI: Driving employee engagement in a time of crisis
- CMI: The better managers manual
- Hays: How to engage and motivate your team remotely