6 strategies to maintain employee performance and engagement

HR leaders can restore productivity and deliver on employee experience by focusing on employees’ emotions
By: | April 6, 2020 • 4 min read
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

As the COVID-19 pandemic affects organizations all over the world, employees are increasingly becoming more anxious, frustrated and fatigued. If left unattended, these feelings will impact employees’ productivity and engagement, leading to poor work quality and a disconnected workforce, and ultimately hampering an organization’s ability to succeed in these tough times.

By and large, companies have focused contingency planning on the necessary operational responses to ensure business continuity. These plans often fail to tackle the ability of workers to concentrate on their work.

HR can help managers ensure employees get the appropriate support to tackle the emotional roller coaster of this pandemic via six key strategies:

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1. Feel for the wellbeing of employees. Identifying signs of distress among employees, both directly through conversations and indirectly through observation, is a step in the right direction for managers. Employees need an opportunity to raise issues and know that their employers care and are invested in their welfare. To promote daily interactions between managers and employees, HR should advise managers on how best to handle sensitive issues emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, including alternative work models, job security and prospects, impacts on staffing and workplace conflict. 

2. Encourage dialogue to build understanding. Gartner analysis shows that employees’ understanding of decisions and their implications is more critical for the success of a change initiative than employees “liking” the change. Progressive managers provide for two-way conversation with their employees to ensure communication strategies improve engagement rather than harm. Interacting with managers and peers provides employees with the information and perspective they need, which allows them to express and process negative emotions and improve their feelings of control. HR can work with managers to create opportunities for two-way dialogues with their employees, which should focus on a practical view of the positive and negative effects of the current COVID-19 outbreak.

3. Use objectives to create clarity. A strong connection between individual performance and the achievement of business goals can boost employees’ confidence in the importance of their job, even in a challenging business environment. Similarly, having clear objectives and receiving regular updates on possible changes helps to ensure that employees maintain focus, energy and a sense of purpose. Managers can reassert the connection between employees’ work and organizational success by providing a clear view of the current organizational goals and translating the organization’s vision into their employees’ context. When employees are confident about the importance of their job to the success of the organization, they feel less anxious about their job security.

4. Strengthen organizational values to minimize the risk of misconduct. An unpleasant employee experience can negatively impact psychological safety by up to 35%. What’s worse, during periods of uncertainty, employee misconduct rises by as much as 33%, according to Gartner research. Aside from modeling the right behaviors, encourage whistleblowers to point out unethical practices, remind employees of the channels for reporting misconduct and highlight the consequences of noncompliance.

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5. Tailor moments of employee appreciation. The significant disruption caused by COVID-19 will result in many employees leaning out. Organizations can stem this tide by redoubling their recognition efforts. Effective recognition not only motivates the recipient but can serve as a strong signal to other employees of behaviors they should emulate. Recognition should not be limited to monetary rewards — public acknowledgment, tokens of appreciation, development opportunities and low-cost perks are also effective recognition practices. Use the slowdown in business as an opportunity to provide incentives for employees who usually don’t have the capacity to expand.

6. Drive engagement via innovation. While today’s unpredictable environment will cause managers and employees to naturally become more risk-averse, fostering creativity and taking risks is critical for employee engagement and organizational performance. The disengaging impact of restrictions on innovation and risk-taking are particularly severe for high-potential employees, who tend to have a greater appetite for these types of opportunities. Emphasize the need and ability of employees to advance initiatives and find process improvements even when the organization has constraints on new investments.

During this period of uncertainty, HR should work with managers to actively embrace the concerns and emotions of their employees to maintain as much productivity and engagement as possible.