Is it possible to engage people during hard times? You bet it is. And, these leaders got the data to prove it.
As a leader, are you a motivator or a demotivator in times of crisis? A lot has been written about office workers struggling with remote work. Some love the change, others hate it. But what about those who can’t rock up in their pyjamas to the assembly line or deliver that parcel?
Let’s focus on the employees who’ve been going to work every day since the pandemic started. What employee engagement trends have we seen?
1. A baseline puts a spotlight on real leaders.
Firstly, the kind of insights our solution provides leaders with gives them a baseline of how their people are doing at work.
Since the Celpax device always asks employees the same every day (How was your day? Press the green or red smileys as you finish your shift), it means that you can compare. How did your people feel before Covid? How are they doing this week?
As an example, imagine that an average of 60% of your people presses the green button on a normal day. During Covid, your baseline might have dropped to 40% green.
Many managers will quickly decide that the red-button trend is due to furloughs, Covid worries, or because they wear masks all the time. Their attitude is that this is not the time to focus on employee engagement or open up the conversation with the team. That stuff is for later. To conclude, their numbers are still in the red, 10 months after the pandemic started.
Then there are the real leaders. Those whose employee engagement levels have been affected, but haven’t seen deep plunges. And they quickly bounce back up. Why? Because...
2. You have to engage people no matter what, and that brings results
Real leaders engage their people regardless of what is going on. Come rain or shine. This is the case of Martin Minaric from the Vita Group, who leads a production facility in Slovakia. Having built trust and invested in employee engagement over time, the company’s percentage of green has remained high since they started measuring in 2017.
Can you as an employee be engaged during hard times?
When Covid hit with full strength, Martin and his team decided to furlough all employees in the same way. Himself included. He walked the talk.
Where other worksites would have had a super red day after announcing such bad news, Martin and his team spent time talking with people and explain their reasoning. The team’s feedback was a really green day. Let’s repeat that again. They announced furloughs for
EVERYONE, and got a higher % of green than they normally do.
That’s a strong confirmation that people appreciate what you’re doing. “I believe that you create a company culture top to bottom. So we have to be an example of the culture we want to create“, says Martin.
3. But come on, what if you fire people?
Sometimes it’s inevitable. You have to let employees go. It’s obviously a hard blow to lose your job. Especially during times like these. But this blow also depends on the story that led you there. Particularly for those who are being made redundant, but also for the people who are staying.
Now, imagine if your managers worked really hard and managed to let go of only 30% of the workforce instead of the planned 50%, this wouldn’t go unnoticed.
In Martin’s case, several months down the road, they had a hard decision to communicate. The employees knew and trusted – as they had seen it first hand - that the management team had tried all options to keep everyone onboard: furloughs, holidays, flex…
Martin did exit interviews with Miriam, his HR, with each employee they had to let go. Almost every single one said to call when things picked up. That is important as you can count on a skilled workforce who don’t need the training to be productive.
But the even more important thing here is: what’s the impact on the people who STAY? When people know that management has an ear to the ground and value open communications, they feel like the company has their back. This translates into higher productivity. Perhaps some workplaces would have closed down had it not been for their high level of engagement. All is relative.
4. After Covid?
Crises will come and go. Few leave as big a stain as Covid though. Are you a motivator or a demotivator in times of crisis? When Covid calms down, what will you be remembered for? Company culture and employee engagement are built through actions. Not words. “It’s easy to be a leader when things are easy. You shake hands and say good work… but when things are hard, your people will remember how you handled the situation for years”, Martin adds.
If a future job candidate were to ask for references on you as a leader, what would your team say? Many companies spend lots of money convincing future candidates that you have a good workplace. You could just make sure your people FEEL they have good leaders. As a result, recommending you to friends.
What has Martin and his team changed to have such an engaged workforce? His answer is 100 small things. There’s no quick fix. It’s about being present in the daily trenches. Be visible. Talk face-to-face with people. Create trust, and communicate what’s going on in the business.
It’s also easy to focus on the lack of leadership instead of the basics. That is, are the underlying conditions present in your organization for leaders to be the best possible leaders? At all levels? That means taking a hard look at how we run and lead our businesses, from a people perspective. Continuously.
And that is perhaps the strongest employee engagement trend we see. Bad companies continue to ignore the potential they have, while good leaders continue to look after their people.