Employee Engagement: Practices to consider as we continue the COVID marathon

Posted on September 22, 2021

Earlier this year, I downloaded the Hayes 2021 Salary Guide. Nestled in the report was data that really hit hard. According to research they completed late in 2020, 52 per cent of Ontario workers were considering leaving their current employers and somewhere close to 25 per cent were ready to pull the plug on their current positions within a few months.

Hayes usually publishes this report late in the first quarter, but they decided to publish earlier because the data was so striking. Mental health groups are reporting a growing sense of “languishing” in the workforce. It’s not quite depression but a deep unease of feeling trapped in conditions that are draining.

The intent to leave seems to be building. The dilemma for many organizations is that “intent to leave” builds quietly then cascades into action as the job market or external conditions change. As I write, people may hesitate to undertake the huge shift of changing their employment, but will they hesitate to leave when increased vaccination rates re-open the job market and economic growth creates a huge demand for people?

Here is a bit of a bet. If people in an organization feel like they matter, feel like they are seen as competent and can influence significant decisions that affect their work lives and productivity, even in the midst of a pandemic, it makes the jump to another company less tempting.

Leaders can help people find positive answers to these key elements of engagement (purpose, competence, and influence) through some simple practices yet intentional practices:

For leaders of dislocated workers (they used to work physically with their peers and co-workers and have been moved to working from home).

  • Recognize that people may be facing a lot of complexity at home as they try to work for you.
  • Zoom meetings are fundamentally more exhausting than face to face interactions, really measure the amount of time you expect people to be online in such formats.
  • Connect intentionally with individuals to check in on how they are doing and ask the how you can help.
  • Keep on clarifying the objectives and expectations. Be open to readjust them if they are unworkable.
  • Watch for processes that are unnecessary or overly complicated for what they achieve. It really adds to people’s frustration when they must use methods that make no sense or are overly complicated.
  • Ask for their input on any decisions that will touch their work or outcomes. When you can, involve them early in decisions that impact them.
  • Watch for and offer simple opportunities to learn and grow.
  • When discussing work, try to provide people with “flow time”, uninterrupted blocks of time when people can really concentrate on productive work.
  • Resist the temptation to over police people’s use of time unless there is a glaring issue. Most people are trustworthy and want to be proud of their contribution.
  • Keep people connected to purpose, make it a point to add the “why” to your communications and requests.

Most of the above points apply to any team, whether they’ve moved to online work arrangements or they still gather physically to get the work done.

Now’s the time to really invest in listening to your people. If you don’t, you may be faced with an unanticipated exodus when the world re-opens.

Remember that simple things can make a huge difference.


Mark Norman photoMark Norman is the facilitator for Schulich ExecEd’s Employee Engagement: Practices and Strategies to Maximize Motivation program (starting Nov. 8, 2022).  For more information on this two-day program in the Virtual Classroom and to register, visit the program web page.