Employee engagement in the last leg of the pandemic and beyond

Lucinda Carney, Founder and CEO of Actus Software, on how employers can effectively promote employee engagement, safety and productivity as lockdowns are lifted and workplaces reopen.

The pandemic has forcibly separated teams, resulting in many employees forced to work remotely which has led them to feel isolated and disconnected. Although the news of the national lockdown lifting brings hopes for a return to some form of normality, this is still a transition period, offering us an opportunity to reassess our employee engagement strategies, ensuring teams return to work feeling motivated and empowered to progress within their organizations.

employee engagement during COVID-19 pandemic

This raises the question of how employees can remain motivated and resilient despite the challenges ignited by the pandemic. If we continue to work in a hybrid fashion, how does this impact the visibility, development and internal mobility of key staff? Has the term ‘talent management’ – perhaps overused just 12 months ago disappeared for good or will it re-emerge as we consider opportunities for internal mobility as an important engagement strategy as we reimagine the workforce of tomorrow.

The situation

Recent Actus research indicates that prior to 2020, an average of 1 in 4 new hires left an organization within the first 6 months. Reasons for this fell into the following areas: the role was not what people expected; they didn’t agree with the company culture; they didn’t work well with colleagues or they saw no path for progression. However, the economic downfall caused by COVID-19 has meant that those who are lucky enough to have retained their jobs are more likely to stay put within their company for longer – for now, but this doesn’t mean they are always completely satisfied with their role.

The reality is, external recruitment has become the norm to such an extent that organizations lack the established systems for internal development, leading to a high chance that businesses are retaining expensive, but disengaged and unmotivated new hires. Likewise, existing employees become easily unfocused as their skills are simply not being acknowledged, thus creating retention issues propelled further by companies hiring from competitors and vice versa.

For instance, a research project conducted in 2018 by Two Heads Consultancy with Kelly Services, found that two of the top four reasons job seekers gave for choosing one organization over another were the opportunities for training and development, and for promotion within the role. This leads to a vicious cycle of unsatisfied employees constantly searching for external positions, which can only harm productivity, particularly in a virtual workplace.

If a silver lining can be found in the past year, it would be that the ramifications of the pandemic have led to a shift in approach. Many HR leaders are recognizing the need to look deeper at the skills within their company. Whether a result of external hiring freezes due to COVID-19 uncertainty, or simply the need to discover ‘hidden’ talent, businesses everywhere are now reassessing their talent management strategies. So in a time defined by disruption, how exactly can businesses begin to engage their teams?

Prioritizing talent management

With many organizations looking externally to fill new vacancies, they are completely disregarding that one of best ways to motivate their employees to develop is to provide them with the opportunity of a new role. By not utilizing the resources you already have within a business, the time and money you have invested in hiring and training employees will simply be wasted if they have to leave to pursue further professional development.

Despite this, recent research suggests that fewer than 1 in 20 organizations immediately look internally when filling a new position. Therefore, to increase engagement from employees, HR professionals must highlight the role of Talent Management, specifically concerning internal mobility, performance management and employee development. This plays a crucial role in empowering and therefore retaining talent, because, in reality, people join organizations, and stay, if they see they will have the opportunity to grow and learn new skills. Having these opportunities made more apparent needs to be hardwired into the fabric of the whole company to ensure employees receive the development they expect.

Increased transparency

To develop talent internally, keeping teams fully engaged, increased transparency of all employees skills, capabilities and performance data should be at the top of HR teams agendas. This is especially true within a remote workforce, where complete visibility has been replaced by a reliance on endless Zoom calls and back-and-forth emails. With many businesses failing to successfully record the performance of their workforce, it’s easy to make employees feel pigeonholed within certain teams, divisions, roles or functions, without having the opportunity to show what they might be able to contribute elsewhere.

To ensure our people remain motivated, there needs to be increased transparency across the business and this needs to be made visible to business leaders, managers and HR teams alike. So, when new vacancies arise, everyone involved in hiring and assessing potential candidates is aware of who may be appropriate within the business, ensuring internal talent is recognized in a meaningful way.

A focus on technology

According to a report from McKinsey & Co, responses to COVID-19 have sped up the adoption of digital technologies by seven years, fuelled by a need to adapt to a virtual world. There is no reason, then, that businesses should be unable to utilize the correct Talent Management technology that can effectively provide all the information they need to successfully match the people and skills already within the business, against the vacancies that arise.

Despite this, according to Actus research, two in three employees say it’s easier to find a new role elsewhere than within their own company. Given the challenge of new starters getting up to speed effectively in a hybrid or remote environment, this seems ludicrous. The problem is often compounded  by performance data being siloed, or failing to be transparently recorded or shared. This means that employees who are suitable to take on new challenges within a business become invisible, due to a flawed and outdated system.

However, with the right technology which supports employees, records performance conversations, and makes the necessary analytics available to managers and the recruitment team, internal transfers could become seamless. In turn, this increases employee engagement by identifying internal development opportunities for the candidates who deserve it.

Changes to Corporate Culture

Managers discouraging their employees from exploring other opportunities within the organization for fear of losing their best performers is an all too common practice. With management often rewarded for having a high performing team, it leaves great talent unable to test themselves elsewhere. Ultimately, with high performing employees restricted to a particular team, this can gradually disengage employees as they are left unmotivated and unchallenged. With so much potential going unleveraged, it is no wonder that so many employees seek new challenges outside of their current organization.

If we are to seek to increase engagement and retention rates, internal mobility should be viewed as a key component by keeping the skills, capabilities and knowledge of existing employees, propelling their growth and development as opposed to hindering it. To make this possible, the entire corporate culture must shift so that managers are rewarded for producing talent that benefits the company as a whole, as opposed to simply within their particular team. To avoid information being siloed, managers should be encouraged to share all data and analytics of their best performers, as well as assist them in looking for new challenges and opportunities that will empower and keep their best talent motivated.

Employee Engagement within the new norm

Employee engagement is a vital energy source and one that HR teams must nurture and tap into. As the workplace continues to adapt and evolve with these tumultuous times, business leaders need to consider whether their culture supports the growth of their employees and nurtures talent by making performance visible and ensuring those who are capable of progressing further internally are encouraged to do so. In a period defined by human disconnection, empowering our teams to develop and progress their careers internally will be essential in creating a robust organization, underpinned by employees who are loyal and motivated to utilize their complete, unlimited potential.

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Lucinda Carney
Lucinda is a Chartered Psychologist with 20 years Corporate HR experience and is the Founder and CEO of Actus Software. Lucinda is an accomplished Speaker, Consultant and Coach, named ‘Winner of one of the UK’s top 10 Women in Business 2020’ by Business Gamechanger magazine. Lucinda hosts the No.1 ranking Podcast ‘The HRUprising” and her book “How to be a Change Superhero” reached a bestseller status in multiple Amazon categories.

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