Lessons From the Pandemic: What COVID-19 Is Teaching Us About Employee Engagement
By Roxanne Martinez, Chief Human Resources Officer for DentaQuest
COVID-19 has touched every U.S. industry, business and employee in multiple ways. Some are dealing with tragic losses. Many are experiencing significant financial consequences. Nearly all are coming up with new strategic plans to face an uncertain future. Through it all, business leaders are looking for new ways to keep employees connected and engaged.
As a purpose-driven leader in oral health, DentaQuest places a high premium on employee engagement. We take pride in how we communicate with our teams and regularly measure engagement and employee well-being. And we are serious about the plans we develop to drive improvements to our processes and systems. Like many organizations, our executive team started the year with a clear set of ideas about work we would do in 2020 to improve our employee experience. Then, in mid-March, everything changed. The pandemic hit, threatening the health and well-being of our communities and creating a completely different experience for the vast majority of our employees.
So, what has COVID-19 taught us about employee engagement?
Communication Is Key
Our movement of all but a few essential employees to remote work settings revealed some outdated communication practices and gaps in our ability to quickly reach employees with important messages. But we were quick to address and remedy these problems. In less than 48 hours, we implemented a new texting service for emergency updates and office opening and closing notifications. We changed the cadence of our internal e-newsletter from weekly to daily, providing shorter, more frequent updates. We introduced bi-weekly virtual CEO Connect meetings to enable two-way communication between our employees and leaders. We also created an internal site to serve as the go-to place for company-wide news, local and national COVID-19 updates, public health regulations and technical support guides. We all got a lot more comfortable with Microsoft Teams. And then we measured. Through a series of six pulse surveys, 91% of employees told us that our efforts were helping them stay engaged and informed.
Flexibility Is Critical
While many may yearn for a return to business as usual, we understand that our ‘new normal’ will require ongoing adjustment, adaptation and learning. And we’re using input from our employees to drive and enable those changes. Our review of hundreds of surveys showed that employees needed more support with work-life balance. In response, we accelerated our Employee Assistance Program services, including new stress management offerings, and enabled managers to support their teams with more flexible schedules and work arrangements. When employees said they needed work-related items left behind in our offices, we orchestrated collections days so they could safely retrieve essential tools and supplies and be more comfortable and productive working from home. And we introduced new benefits, including identity theft protection services, discount buying programs, and even began offering pet insurance to better support the whole employee. As we begin planning for a future return to offices, we will again survey each employee on their preferences and will use their input to drive decisions. This will ensure that employees have a strong voice in their future work environments.
Managers Drive Engagement
We already understood the important role managers play in driving and improving employee engagement, but the business challenges created by COVID-19 required us to take an even closer look at how we support our managers so that they can effectively support their teams. Following each management team meeting, we distribute a toolkit that includes a summary of key take-aways and next steps to help managers take an active role in their team’s overall well-being. This is by no means a ground-breaking practice. Bringing more rigor to the process and the timing of distributions, however, is helping managers understand what they can expect and when. And this helps them more effectively manage through some of the new and unpredictable issues they are currently facing as part of a new remote workforce. Longer-term, we’re working to build new leadership capabilities for the remote workforce of the future.
As we continue to live and work through the pandemic, each of us is on a different track and schedule. As business leaders, we need to focus not only on the changes that will help us move closer to more regular operations, but equally on the people who will enable and support those changes — and how we keep them connected and engaged. Companies that are willing to rethink what they know about employee engagement and apply the lessons they learned from COVID-19 will be in a stronger position post pandemic. And their employees will recognize and remember the way they were supported during a global health crisis.
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