Carefully Consider How to Re-Engage Your Employees
As the United States emerges from the pandemic, Americans are getting back to the lives they put on pause over a year ago. Daily routines that revolve around interactions with others are back. We are traveling, going to sporting events, dining inside restaurants and —for many—heading back into the workplace.
The workplace, in particular, was altered dramatically by the modifications the pandemic forced upon employers. So much so, in fact, that the act of returning to the workplace is, well, complicated.
Forced to rapidly embrace work-from-home (WFH) strategies by which employees used remote video, computer and/or device-related technology to meet work requirements and remain responsive to customer needs, organizations had to engage in a major experiment: Could employees execute their daily work responsibilities without reporting into a physical office space?
Under Armor founder and executive chairman Kevin Plank has been quoted as saying, “Trust is built in drops and lost in buckets.” The pandemic afforded organizations neither the time nor luxury of building trust in drops. Instead, they found themselves in a “trust fall.” And, on the whole, their trust was well placed.
Embracing WFH, organizations adjusted well with credit given to their employees and leadership for demonstrating flexibility, innovation, teamwork and commitment throughout the pandemic. Employees quickly adapted to social distancing and WFH requirements and learned to use technology to facilitate their workplace collaborations. Emphasis was placed on the quality and effectiveness of work goals achieved, rather than non-value producing factors such as face time with the boss or time spent coming in early or going home late.
The positive effect of placing trust in the workforce was not only realized by organizations in their bottom lines, but it was also felt intrinsically by individual employees.
The great WFH experiment was a success in general. American workers rose to the challenge and did what they needed to do to help their organizations survive. In the long-term, however, WFH may not be optimal. Going forward, organizations need to find the approach that best fulfils the demands of the business and maintains trust with employees.
With pandemic restrictions now lifted in most states, American enterprises are beginning to articulate return to work (RTW) strategies. Oftentimes, they are one of the following three alternatives:
- WFH—These employers feel comfortable with this choice as remote work has demonstrated success for their business model and allows greater flexibility for employees and potentially less of a real estate footprint needed for the organization.
- Hybrid— WFH combined with core days or event days in the office allowing employees more flexibility while providing more in-person collaboration and teamwork.
- Return to Office—Throughout the pandemic essential workers carried out duties at their work locations. Now some organizations are specifying a date and declaring the need to return to office work for all their employees as they have determined this best fits their enterprise and optimizes teamwork and collaboration.
While leaders wrestle with the best ways to meet their organization’s financial requirements, grow their markets and meet customer expectations, they must also factor in the potential for high employee turnover.
Studies on employee turnover trends indicate that this could be a record year for turnover based on many factors. The Achievers 2021 Engagement and Retention Report notes, “A whopping 52% of respondents say they will job hunt in 2021— up from 35% in 2020.”
Retirements among baby boomers, fueled by increased home values and investment portfolio growth, are further challenging employers. All of this is leading to a potential turnover tsunami as employee demand surges. Meanwhile, the talent war is heating up, too, especially for top technical and leadership talent. These coveted hires often have specific preferences regarding where and how they want to work.
Organizations now need to consider not only how best to re-engage their workforce as they choose a RTW strategy, but also how to attract new hires and retain employees. Work-life balance and performance recognition are two of the top criteria employees cite in employee engagement surveys when asked about remaining with their employers. The Achievers 2021 report states the same finding.
Leading organizations are surveying employees to better understand their desires before making final decisions on RTW options. They also are looking at what other employers in their industries are doing with respect to RTW strategies, especially those known for high workforce engagement and customer satisfaction scores.
Viewing this more holistically in the expanded sense of employee experience, and not just from a RTW perspective, allows employers to improve employee retention compared to industry peers. Taking a broader perspective also focuses on things like improving employee recognition, increasing internal advancement opportunities and refining company culture to be an employer of choice.
Finally, each enterprise needs to communicate how RTW is going to happen within its organization. Being able to state clearly the considerations and rationale for its decision is critical for employee retention. To be clear: The employees who had their employers’ backs in the pandemic trust fall need to know they have been heard.
How can coaching help your organization deal with RTW strategies in a way that builds trust, retains talent and develops leaders?
Lance Hazzard, PCC, CPCC, is a certified Intelligent Leadership Executive Coach helping people and organizations achieve success. Lance and Eric T. Hicks, Ph.D., co-authored Accelerating Leadership, published in June 2019. Lance is Executive Coach and President at Oppnå® Executive & Achievement Coaching. More information can be found on the book, Lance and Oppnå® Coaching at the links below: