Researchers studied 100,000 teams during the pandemic and discovered 3 critical strategies for boosting workers' productivity and happiness right nowJanuary 22, 2021
- Employees are less engaged because of the stress related to the coronavirus pandemic.
- Employee engagement is a crucial part of company success, and is closely linked to productivity.
- Business Insider spoke with Gallup's chief scientist, Jim Harter, on how to keep employees engaged.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
In the new year, it's more important than ever to keep your employees engaged.
Many have been working remotely since last March, and might be starting to burn out. Insider spoke with Jim Harter, chief scientist for workplace and well-being at Gallup, who has been conducting research on employee engagement for 20 years. This past year, his team found that engagement levels were fluctuating more than ever.
Employee engagement measures how passionate employees are about their job, which directly impacts how much effort they're willing to put in.
Harter's team analyzed data from over 100,000 teams across different industries to determine the relationship between employee engagement and company success. Highly engaged teams had lower levels of absenteeism and turnover, and higher levels of profitability, employee wellbeing, and productivity.
It's no surprise that employees are struggling to stay focused right now. The abrupt shift to remote work and various personal and family challenges brought about by COVID-19 had a negative impact on workers' mental health and productivity.
That, compounded with stress over political discord and an attempted coup at the Capitol to kick off the new year, makes for a lot of distraction and pressure on employees who are trying to cope.
"We found that engagement was an even stronger predictor of performance during tough times like recessions," Harter said. "How you address the different elements of engagement is important when you're in this kind of remote setting."
Business Insider spoke with Harter about the most crucial steps companies need to take right now to maintain a healthy, productive workforce.
Read more: How companies can transform remote work from a good experience into a great one
Start at the top
Employee engagement is often thought of as an HR problem, but it actually begins with the company's CEO and board members, Harter said. Executives need to have an understanding of how employees at every level are feeling, and integrate that into their larger company mission.
"That starts at the top of the organization," he said. "How does the people strategy fit with other strategic initiatives in the organization? Do leaders know how employee engagement drives their performance? Do they explain their intentions around it?"
For example, at Hilton, which was Fortune's top company to work for in 2019, senior leadership and board members participate in a three-day program working entry-level and back of house roles to better understand employee concerns. The company's philosophy supports this commitment, with its mission — "hospitality for all" — extending not only to guests, but also to employees as well.
It's crucial that companies communicate that they care about their workforce and how happy they are on a day-to-day basis.
Foster regular communication and organizational citizenship
In a remote setting, fostering open lines of communication is important, Harter said.
He recommended setting up a system where employees can get meaningful feedback from managers at least once a week, and making sure that employees are regularly kept in the loop with company updates.
Harter also recommended that companies promote organizational citizenship, or engaging in company-sponsored social activities, Harter said.
We've already seen some examples of organization citizenship. Online graphic design tool Canva, for example, connects its employees through virtual movie nights. Employees vote on movies to watch at the same time that night and then have a group discussion on Slack. Other companies host regular book clubs and online games for employees.
"Organizations have to do a much better job of getting people to connect," Harter said. "You can't take the human nature out of people when they come to work."
Read more: A software startup shifted to a 4-day work week for a month after measuring employee engagement since the start of the pandemic. Its cofounder explains how it collected the data.
Develop a strong accountability system
Once you've identified the problems at the company, you need to put a system in place to make sure change actually happens. This is called an accountability system, and it's key to boosting worker productivity and happiness.
"Organizations that grow over time have really good accountability systems," Harter said. "Managers know that engaging employees is part of their job."
Harter said that managers need to take accountability for not only the objectives and quality of work that employees are meeting, but also for their wellbeing.
In other words, the work doesn't stop once employees have filled out their engagement surveys. Managers need to draw from their surveys to ensure that their employees feel productive and secure. They also need to be held accountable for improving worker morale.
"Engagement isn't just a survey," Harter said. "The concepts you're measuring should be blended into your performance management, as well as your learning and development. If you're a manager, you need to take your survey results, sit down with employees, talk about the results with them, and learn from and implement those."
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