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Engaging Employees during Difficult Times

06/29/2020

COVID-19 has created a unique need to question how we can support our employees. We can find engagement as an opportunity for our team without a global pandemic. However, this situation is affecting every employee in every practice in every state. How it is affecting your practice is going to be unique to the specific situation in your community and your employees’ personal situations. No matter the circumstances you are facing in your practice, engagement is always a worthwhile investment.

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating unusual amounts of workplace stress and the CDC has put out guidelines for what to look for. You can view the full article here.

You team may be experiencing the following:

 

  • Feeling irritation, anger, or in denial
  • Feeling uncertain, nervous, or anxious
  • Lacking motivation
  • Feeling tired, overwhelmed, or burned out
  • Feeling sad or depressed
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Having trouble concentrating

 

There are many reasons your team could be experiencing these feelings including risk of exposure at work, adapting to different work expectations or work space and balancing the needs and expectations outside of work. These may be some of your own concerns – on top of business success and expenses.

There are some very easy ways to address workplace stress and waning engagement. However, just because they are “easy” doesn’t mean they won’t take time.

Communication is Key:

“A lack of communication breeds assumptions of what the other is thinking or feeling; and assumptions are, more often than not, incorrect.” – Misty Lynn Walker

Your employees will decide what is happening, whether you participate in that decision or not. It is much better for you to start the conversation than to re-write the story after it has already been told --- many, many times. Nothing else I list here is going to be effective without more communication in your practice.

Hold staff meetings, weekly if possible, to keep the lines of communication open. Be sure and offer an opportunity for your staff to hear you as well as be heard and prioritize honesty wherever possible. You may find that employees voicing concerns do better in one-on-one settings. You know your team and what they need. Consider this when making communication plans.

In addition to this formal communication, informal communicate can be very productive. You see this when your staff is bonding with each other over weekend plans or the crazy things their kid recently said. As long as it remains professional, allow some time for your team to connect with each other. Include yourself in that as well – you are after all a human being.

*If interested, I have included additional resources articles at the end of this blog so you can explore this topic further. All resources will not be directly related to COVID-19.

Focus on Wellness:

During times of stress, focusing on wellness promotes team building and is an excellent way for everyone to deal with their anxious feelings. A few ways to focus on wellness are:

  1. Team Building: Team building activities might seem like a thing of the past but there are still things that you can do with your team to drive relationships. Start a physical challenge like steps or flights of stairs or start working on a lifestyle change, like drinking water. Share healthy recipes or if you have a small team that can easily socially distance, have a (coordinated) potluck with healthy options. There are plenty of ways that you can connect as a team without a significant investment.
  2. Require Breaks: Most practices do not require their staff to take rest breaks throughout the day. In fact, most have not had the flexibility to offer them. However, during these times, requiring breaks will allow your employees time to step away, reset and refresh. It is always a good idea to encourage taking a walk, going outside for fresh air and sunlight and eating a snack. These 10-15 minutes twice per 6-8 hour shift can make a difference in engagement and stress levels.
  3. Healthy Snacks: If you have some flexibility in your budget, bring in fresh fruit or veggies and other healthy snacks (to be stored safely in the breakroom, of course) for your team to have during their shifts.

*If interested, I have included additional resources articles at the end of this blog so you can explore this topic further. All resources will not be directly related to COVID-19.

Flex your Empathy Muscle:

“When you show deep empathy towards others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.” –Stephen Covey

This is a difficult time for your practice and for you as a business owner. It is also a hard time for your employees and, like it or not, their struggles become yours as their leader. As human beings, “checking out feelings at the door” is an illogical ask of your employees. We are dynamic and complicated and deal with stress in very different ways. This doesn’t mean that YOU have to become a robot, put aside your own feelings and assume your employees’. It also doesn’t mean that meltdowns and unprofessional behavior should be tolerated. It does mean that you will get further addressing concerns in engagement if you are willing to use empathy to connect with your employees and help them navigate these feelings.

Asking for feedback and communication is key – see above. Use statements like “From my perception” to explain how you are understanding the situation and allow your employees the opportunity to vent their feelings and concerns. Even when someone says they are unhappy, overworked, frustrated, etc, it doesn’t mean that they have a foot out the door. Offering a safe place for them to work through that feedback is one of the most important parts of leadership. They may not express it well and you may be confused – but you will be on your way to helping the situation improve for everyone.

*If interested, I have included additional resources articles at the end of this blog so you can explore this topic further. All resources will not be directly related to COVID-19.

 

Do Not Forget about Accountability:

In my experience, I have found that if performance management is lacking, employee engagement suffers, no matter how wonderful the work environment. In fact, lack of accountability can affect individual performance, even if they have been doing the same thing. We see this often about attendance or overuse of the vacation policy. Talk about lack of perspective, amirite?!   Yet, this happens all the time.

Accountability is an important part of your relationship with your employees. In times of distress, rapid change makes accountability feel impossible. How can you talk to your employees about their performance? Won’t they leave if I ask them about this? Although I don’t believe this is the time for formal performance reviews, it is important to continue to address any performance or compliance concerns.

*If interested, I have included additional resources articles at the end of this blog so you can explore this topic further. All resources will not be directly related to COVID-19.

Additional Resources:

COVID-19 and Engagement:

https://joshbersin.com/2020/04/covid-19-may-be-the-best-thing-that-ever-happened-to-employee-engagement/

https://harver.com/blog/drive-employee-engagement/

https://www.quantumworkplace.com/future-of-work/how-to-engage-employees-during-covid

Communication:

https://www.insights.com/us/resources/the-role-of-communication-in-creating-engagement/

https://blog.smarp.com/the-secret-to-improving-employee-engagement-is-better-communication

https://www.cashort.com/blog/the-role-of-communication-in-employee-engagement

Wellness:

https://www.modahealth.com/pdfs/wellness/low_cost_activites.pdf

https://www.exaqueo.com/blog/2018-8-25-employee-wellness-activities-that-cost-little-to-nothing

http://www.healthyvending.com/blog/employee-wellness-ideas/

Empathy in Leadership:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/prudygourguechon/2017/12/26/empathy-is-an-essential-leadership-skill-and-theres-nothing-soft-about-it/#40881da82b9d

https://www.tanveernaseer.com/why-empathy-matters-in-leadership/

https://thecompleteleader.org/blog/importance-developing-empathy-leader

Accountability:

https://blog.idoc.net/confident-competent-leadership-using-the-facets-of-accountability

https://gethppy.com/employee-engagement/accountability-workplace-ties-employee-engagement#:~:text=Leaders%20pass%20responsibility%20to%20members,take%20ownership%20of%20those%20responsibilities.&text=When%20leaders%20place%20their%20trust,important%20to%20the%20overall%20process.

https://www.gallup.com/workplace/257945/ways-create-company-culture-accountability.aspx

 

 

AUTHOR

IDOC Optometry - Color Bar
Amy Alvarez

Amy Alvarez

Amy Alvarez, MS-HRM, joined IDOC in February 2018 as Human Resources Consultant. Amy has experience in Human Resources in healthcare and retail, Management in big box and specialty retail stores and Physician Recruitment. Through these roles and training, Amy is well-versed in recruitment and hiring strategies for “hard to fill” roles, dealing with low productivity, helping encourage employee engagement, on-boarding, training, day-to-day management in a retail setting, employee relations, and so much more.