How to Sustain Engagement When Employees Are Stressed

As employees continue to face social, economic, environmental, and medical threats, they’re becoming increasingly disengaged from employers who aren’t doing enough to address their concerns. A June 2020 survey from Gallup found that only 42% of employees believe that their companies care about their wellbeing, down from 51% in May. This, combined with a perceived lack of transparency, has the potential to severely decrease engagement at a time when most businesses need their employees to be performing their best.

To sustain productivity and motivation, we’ve taken a holistic approach to understanding what our employees need from management during this time and created initiatives to address many of our workforce’s underlying challenges. After six months of working from home, we’ve seen positive results.

Here are five research-backed strategies that we’ve used to 60+% workforce engagement throughout this chaotic time.

1) Create as Much Certainty as Possible

For many people, 2020 has created more uncertainty than they’ve ever experienced at a single time. Though you may be struggling with this yourself, you need to make as much certainty as possible for your team.

Neurobiological research shows that uncertainty is one of the primary drivers of anxiety. Unless it’s managed, it can be paralyzing and lead to disengagement even if the triggers are outside of work.

To prevent your team’s stress from derailing their engagement, you have to create as much stability as possible, so they feel confident in the direction they’re going in at work.

Quickskill did this for our employees by taking a long-term approach to address the challenges they’re facing. This began when, in April, we decided to work from home until at least Summer 2021 so that our staff with children can make plans for the school year, and everyone can be assured that we will only return to the office when it’s safe to do so.

We’re also committed to maintaining as much normalcy and transparency as possible so that our employees know that they’re unlikely to face surprises at work.

2) Help Employees Set Daily Priorities

In our May 2020 Executive Productivity survey, the biggest challenge that hindered respondents’ engagement was distractions in their work environment and was immediately followed by difficulty balancing work and personal responsibilities. Working from home with family, pets, and various other things vying for attention creates a lot of opportunities for people’s productivity to be derailed.

To help employees stay engaged in a non-productive environment, encourage them to set daily priorities. The number and method of selecting tasks will vary based on the type of work. Someone in a creative or strategic role might have one to three big items, while someone in a support role might have ten to fifteen quick ones. However, it should include every responsibility they need to complete to stay on track for their goals.

Setting daily priorities supports engagement and productivity in several ways, including:

  1. Ensuring employees know what they need to do to be successful. This makes success almost inevitable instead of an outcome that feels out of reach.
  2. Employees know what tasks to work on first so that they are more likely to meet deadlines even when distractions arise.
  3. The process of setting and sharing priorities, even if they’re not reviewed every day, helps everyone stay aligned on critical goals.

Some employees go through this exercise independently, while others will need coaching to develop the habit. When working with the latter group, continually remind them how their day-to-day responsibilities play a role in your team’s broader goals. We’ve found that this approach helps our employees make better decisions about what activities drive their success.

3) Celebrate Your Team’s Small Wins

With all of the constant negativity, a record percentage of employees are becoming burned out and are struggling to see a path forward with their roles. If left unresolved, this lack of engagement can impact company performance.

According to Dr. David Burns, an expert in overcoming depression and anxiety, one of the most effective ways to help teams regain a positive outlook is to celebrate small wins. This helps remind people that success is more attainable than it seems and builds the psychological momentum that people need to make continuous progress.

Here are a few of the ways that we’re celebrating small wins:

  1. Monthly awards to recognize employees who demonstrate our core values
  2. Acknowledging employees who receive positive feedback from clients
  3. Breaking quarterly goals into achievable monthly milestones

These initiatives and others help our employees stay engaged because success at work feels attainable, despite the challenges happening in the world.

Related: How Leaders Can Show Gratitude for Their Employees

4) Promote Wellness Activities

An abundance of research shows that employee wellbeing has a significant impact on productivity. Not only does it support cognitive abilities, but it also gives them the sustained energy to be productive on long-term projects.

With the variety and severity of challenges that 2020 has brought, many employees have put wellness on the back burner. While this is understandable, it can negatively impact performance.

To help your employees stay engaged through hectic times, launch initiatives that make it easy to sustain their mental and physical health.

At Quickskill, we host weekly 15-30 minute employee-led wellness activities. Sessions have covered topics including:

  1. Desk exercises
  2. Coping with anxiety
  3. Nutrition

Each session is loosely structured so that attendees can pitch in their ideas. We’ve found that this approach is particularly useful since most people know how to be healthy; they just need more inspiration and motivation to sustain good habits during these busy times.

Other options that benefit remote and hybrid teams include access to mindfulness and therapy apps, virtual social activities to alleviate stress, and support groups for parents.

5) Monitor Employee Engagement and Launch Data-Driven Initiatives

Though the four initiatives we’ve described create a solid foundation for sustaining employee engagement during chaotic times, every workforce has unique challenges and desires. To maximize employee performance, monitor engagement, and launch programs that address the most urgent issues.

An easy way to get started with monitoring is to give your employees the Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement Questionnaire. It’s one of the best measures and provides a ton of actionable insights. Every quarter or so afterward, you can have employees retake it so you can track changes or give them a new survey to gather further information about how they feel at work.

If a common theme that emerges in your surveys is that people feel tired and overworked, consider providing virtual assistant support. VAs can tackle a wide range of tedious tasks, including helping your employees achieve their optimal schedule. This helps them focus on the more critical and fulfilling aspects of their work. To learn if VA support is a good fit for your team, contact us for a free consultation.

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