Part 3 of the Series on Workplace Reintegration Post Covid-19 Vaccine: Employee Engagement
Dr. Brad Shuck returns to answer two questions specific to employee engagement post Covid-19 vaccine. If you missed Part 1, make sure you read his breakdown of the 4 R’s of Reintegration: reset, restart, recalibrate, and reinvent. In Part 2, we looks at frequently asked questions related to reintegration.
IS ENGAGEMENT EVEN THE RIGHT QUESTION AS COMPANIES REINTEGRATE POST-VACCINE?
Right now, higher levels of employee engagement may not be the right focus. Instead, employers and leaders would be better off – both now and in the long run – focusing now on employee wellbeing. Post-reintegration, it is likely that engagement will be what most companies resume tracking, but for now, ensuring that your team is well, and able to balance is the likely priority for everyone. The leaders that get this right will reap the benefits of a highly engaged workforce down the line.
Consider that as your team begins to reintegrate, employees will be coming back at different levels. And many situations will vary wildly. Some employees will be leaving school-aged children at home, as schools in their area may still be closed to in person learning. For some, their spouse remains remote and working from home. It is possible that they were sick with COVID, or they lost a loved one during the pandemic, so physical safety will be a top of mind. For others, they have been home alone for months and getting back to work saves them from an isolation that has felt, … well, oppressive. For others, they have not worn real clothes in months. Meetings consisted of a button down and some gym shorts that no one could see. This was the uniform of the pandemic. Socks were optional. But, post-reintegration, socks are mandatory. Lots will change, and just like the changes that occurred in March 2020, there will be a need for a slow, healthy ease back into physical work. Resistance will be real.
At first, the reset will be more psychological than physical. For example, some employees might ask themselves, “how do I begin to think about work?” “Am I willing to go back to the way things were?” “What good things happened in 2020 that I want to hold on to and how do I balance that with the current situation?”
For others, they never slowed down. They were essential. Supply chain. Teachers. Healthcare. Food services. Those workers who never slowed down, … they will be tried. They need rest and a chance to focus on their wellbeing. Mentally. Physically. Socially. Emotionally. Spiritually. They will need space, or burnout will surely set in. One of the greatest challenges of 2021 will be helping essential workers rebalance, reset, and restart. Wellbeing should be the only priority for them right now.
As employers reintegrate, focusing on wellness now will pay dividends into 2021 as wellness turns to engagement in the later months. Asking an employee to be fully engaged now without attending to the wellbeing of teams will result in bitterness, frustration, and turnover. Allowing space for employees to navigate what is sure to be uncharted waters in a way that prioritizes their wellbeing will result instant commitment and loyalty. Frequent communication and transparent interactions will aid in this space.
IS COLLABORATION MORE IMPORTANT THAN ENGAGEMENT AS COMPANIES REINTEGRATE POST-VACCINE?
As we look to reset and restart, engagement is an outcome of collaboration. The good news is that leaders can have both at the same time, without sacrificing either. When we build opportunities for collaboration – meaningful connections, opportunities to work with others, and creative brainstorming – be default we build meaning into work. When we build meaning, naturally engagement develops as an outcome.
Research from our team in early March showed the impact and importance of collaboration and connection. Employees who felt a sense of collaboration and connected to their organization were likely to persist in spaces of ambiguity, had more creative ideas, and were more engaged. Those without collaborators and who felt disconnected reported lower levels of overall health, high levels of disengagement, and feeling isolated.
As we begin the process of reintegration, I would encourage leaders to focus more on how employees are collaborating instead of building engagement for the sake of being engaged. When leaders focus only on engagement, it can feel forced and inauthentic, which will crush culture. On the other hand, focusing on opportunities for connecting with others through collaboration will lead to engagement in ways that are enduring and focused.
Dr. Brad Shuck is an internationally recognized thought-leader in the areas of employee engagement, leadership, and employee health and wellbeing. His evidenced-based, story-driven, and visually inspiring presentations detail how leaders at all levels can build positive and inspiring places of work that drive performance, increase employee wellbeing, and influence peak motivation. Dr. Shuck is a tenured Associate Professor and Program Director of the Human Resource and Organizational Development program at the University of Louisville and principle consultant of LEAD Research, LLC, an advanced human resource analytics consulting group focused on emerging technologies related to leadership, engagement, and design. His research and employee engagement IP is lichened by Unitonomy for OrgVitals. Learn more about Dr. Shuck at his site https://drbshuck.com/about