Employer report card: 5 steps for boosting your employee morale grade

Roughly a year into the COVID pandemic, most employees have adjusted now to a virtual work lifestyle. No longer a temporary emergency measure, Work From Home (WFH) is here to stay, creating both challenges and opportunities. HR executives are at the forefront of managing these changes and forging a new, largely virtual path for the workplace.

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We recently surveyed 590 U.S. employees in North America about their WFH experience and asked them to grade their employers in a number of areas. While we found that nearly 60 percent would give their employer an “A” grade for supporting remote work, only 1 in 3 would give them an A grade for understanding and supporting employee morale.

It’s no surprise that morale is a challenge, given the uncertainty, need to balance WFH and home life (especially for those with children), and lack of in-person connections. The survey also found an unusually high number of employee change events among the respondents, adding to stress and disruption: A full 10 percent of employees have moved to a new physical location during the pandemic.

New situations and challenges require new solutions for employee morale and engagement. Here are five.

Let’s Start with a Better Assessment of Employee Morale

HR needs better ways to assess the wellbeing of employees. Surveys and employee “pulse” check-ins only offer a limited way to gauge how employees are doing and feeling. They’ve been more of a checklist item than a way to really assess wellness and focus anyway. To better understand employee morale, HR needs to look at the same technologies that have helped keep engagement high—video and text. In fact, video and text analysis can help HR understand employee sentiment and identify fatigue and other pitfalls. Productivity monitoring, when approached in the right way, can be a way for employees to feel more connected and help managers better gauge when employees need help.

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Stop Zoom from Zapping Employee Time

Our survey also found that the average employee is spending three hours a day on camera, and Zoom fatigue is real. HR should be encouraging other forms of unstructured collaboration.

Companies should look to invest in tools that support teams and small group collaboration—especially those impromptu sessions that used to occur organically in the office. Those technologies could include virtual offices, embedded screen sharing, whiteboarding and document sharing technologies.

Boost Morale with a Good Cause

Connecting with employees beyond work tasks around things they care about helps increase connection and morale, and it helps employees identify peers that share their goals and values. We found that nearly a third of workers have started volunteering for a new cause during the pandemic.

Driving virtual volunteering opportunities and support for employee resource groups (ERGs) is a powerful opportunity for HR to build a deep connection with employees around volunteerism and corporate social responsibility (CSR). Where HR teams in the past often pushed employees to engage in the philanthropic causes that the company championed, today the employee is very much in charge. The opportunity is to show support and allow employees to get involved with their preferred causes—and show that HR recognizes their contributions beyond their job description.

Transform Training

It’s time to rethink training. Let’s be honest, training prior to the pandemic was not great and already shifting from in-classroom toward a more virtual learning management system model. Unfortunately, many LMS training applications follow the traditional route where HR identifies gaps, buys or develops content, then pushes employees to complete the “coursework.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t leverage the advantages that a virtual solution has to offer. Beyond merely presenting content and certifying course completion, training can embrace virtual mentoring, microlearning, reskilling and networking—all on the employees’ own schedule. Artificial Intelligence technology can help personalize the experience, allowing employees to self-assess and choose individualized growth paths. The LMS technology is critical. Embracing a more progressive model that shapes training to each individual employee versus traditional training is a boost for morale, productivity and retention.

Emphasis on DEI

A new approach to DEI could also help improve morale. Typically seen as a priority to attract and retain talent, DEI is also a great way to connect with employees and show a real commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Too often, the focus on DEI initiatives is on hiring and reducing bias at the upper levels—management and the boardroom. That is important but so is embracing DEI at a more granular level and showing an even deeper commitment across the organization. There is an opportunity to make DEI a central part of key initiatives, such as philanthropy, mentoring and coaching. In fact, DEI efforts are stronger when they are included as part of the company fabric, rather than treated as a separate pillar. DEI provides a powerful means to forge stronger connections with BiPOC, Latinx, Asian, indigenous, LGBTQ+, female, veteran, older and differently abled employees. It will have a positive effect on many employees who do not belong to marginalized groups too.

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The pandemic has shown us that remote workers are, on the whole, productive and strong contributors to the company. We’ve been challenged over the past year to find a new normal, with HR taking a significantly new role in managing a mostly virtual workforce. While many companies get high marks for supporting remote work and even high employee engagement, we can all use help improving our grade for morale. Taking new approaches to assessing wellbeing, coaching managers on collaboration strategies that meet individual needs and reduce camera time, and rethinking training are all areas to address individual morale. On a company level, support for causes and giving can connect employees where they are and provide a further boost to future company grades for morale, no matter what 2021 brings.

Rebecca Wettemann
Rebecca Wettemann is CEO and principal of Valoir, Inc.