Leadership Strategies for Engagement During Uncertainty

Employee engagement is a crucial element to overall business success. Keeping employees engaged during the COVID-19 pandemic requires leadership strategy to communicate and provide clarity.

With COVID-19 upending global business operations and moving many employees to online remote work, strategies that keep employees from disengaging are more critical than ever. Feelings of uncertainty and loss of direction from employees can derail successful engagement program implementation. That’s where leaders step in.

What is employee engagement?

Research and business analysis firm Brandon Hall Group defines employee engagement as “an outcome driven by the quality of everyday employee experiences.” Respondents to its survey of over 200 employers across 34 industries around the world define employee engagement in many ways. They include employees’ emotional commitment to the organization and its objectives, willingness to consistently give their best work, and level of satisfaction with their work situation.

The Effects of Employee Engagement

The same survey found that only 15% of employers believe their workforce is highly engaged, while 34% say theirs is somewhat engaged, or actively disengaged. Gallup’s research into employee engagement shows that nearly 85% of employees worldwide are not engaged or are actively disengaged. This lack of engagement is detrimental to not just the employees themselves, but also key business outcomes. Gallup’s State of the American Workforce report revealed that actively disengaged employees are twice as likely to seek employment elsewhere. With improved employee engagement, key performance outcomes such as absenteeism and turnover are improved as well.

Engagement during Uncertainty Requires Communication and Clarity

Gallup’s research found that the manager or team leader alone accounts for 70% of the variance in team engagement. However, engagement during a time of uncertainty and heightened anxiety provides a new challenge for engagement. Quantum Workplace’s leadership strategy resource tailored to engagement in the COVID-19 environment outlines a “Say It, Do It” framework. Frequent, intentional, and transparent communication builds trust, sets expectations, and provides clarity to employees. At the same time, back up these words with actions by staying calm, showing appreciation, and asking for feedback.

Alongside frequent communication and open dialogue, HR Executive similarly recommends that leaders set clear objectives. Connecting individual performance with overall business goals can boost employee confidence. And “having clear objectives and receiving regular updates on possible changes helps to ensure that employees maintain focus, energy and a sense of purpose.” To some, uncertain times call for safe measures, however, leaders can drive engagement by encouraging innovation, creativity, and risk taking to solve complex problems.

The COVID-19 pandemic has many feeling confused, anxious, and uncertain of the future. Engage employees with a focus on their health and wellbeing. Going beyond the focus on benefits to provide the space and opportunity for employees to express their concerns goes a long way in keeping employees feeling seen and heard.

Such strategies centered on frequent and clear communication that’s backed up with actions, as well as a commitment to innovation, creativity and problem solving, ensure business leaders keep employees engaged in an uncertain time.

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