The Covid-19 pandemic has presented diverse challenges. The fear of being infected by an indiscriminate virus and compliance with physical distancing guidelines have given rise to economic, technological, and emotional challenges for organizations and their employees. These challenges adversely impact employees’ well-being and their willingness to make the extra discretionary effort at work or to even perform adequately in their jobs.
Admittedly, during a pandemic, keeping employees motivated and engaged is difficult. Basic human needs for personal safety, stable relationships, job security and significance are top of mind for employees facing economic uncertainty, fearing job losses, and carrying the dual burden of professional and personal responsibilities. When unmet, these needs put employee wellness and engagement in jeopardy.
Any organization that expects to survive the pandemic must make the well-being of its employees a priority. A resilient workforce that is in good health and that is engaged, is key to organizational success and benefits people, communities, and businesses.
There is evidence that employee engagement and wellness are strongly correlated
To preserve employee health and wellness, remote work has become the new normal in the pandemic. However, remote work can adversely impact employee engagement.
In its April 2020 research report, Driving Connection & Engagement in a Remote Workforce, the US firm Gallagher found that employee disengagement is a big risk with remote work.
Employees working remotely say they need more structure, boundaries, and expectations from their managers. They also need to feel connected when changes occur that affect their job. Remote workers need to know that their individual contribution makes a difference to the customer experience.
Remote work also puts employee wellness at risk. McKinsey’s research report COVID-19 and the employee experience: How leaders can seize the moment, found that when remote employees’ physical and mental health needs are taken care of through adequate compensation and benefits, employee engagement improves by 45%.
The report results also demonstrated that fulfilling employees’ stated needs for a stable, secure work experience, trusting relationships, social cohesion and inclusion and individual purpose and contribution, leads to significant improvements in employees’ work effectiveness, engagement, and well-being.
Five areas of action to support employee wellness and engagement
There are five areas of action that can lead the way to support a thriving workforce that is both well and engaged.
- Communication. As a first step, organizational leaders must first aim to clearly understand and address employee needs for safety. Communication should balance optimism and realism, while reassuring employees of leadership’s commitment to transparency
2. Empower employees to adapt to the remote work environment through training on the use of new technology and on new ways of working together productively and effectively
3. Cultural reinforcement and change to ensure that human resources policies meet the needs of a diverse workforce facing diverse challenges
4. Reallocating resources to match adjusted priorities and invest in employee well-being
5. Leadership engagement with employees to validate employee contributions and reinforce the relevance of their work
The pandemic is obviously not business as usual. We cannot have any illusions that in the post-Covid-19 world that we will return to the pre-Covid-19 way of working. The pandemic has afforded organizational leaders the opportunity to find better ways of supporting employee wellness through engagement strategies and tactics that should evolve beyond the pandemic.
A case study on how the Alzheimer Society of Montreal implemented the five areas of action outlined above is presented in Your Workplace magazine Jan-Feb 2021 Edition Volume 23 Issue 1.
Camille N. Isaacs-Morell is the Executive Director, Alzheimer Society of Montreal. She passionately believes that an engaged and empowered workforce thrives in an environment of wellness, which is key to organizational excellence and success.