How to Bolster Employee Engagement and Morale in Trying Times


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This article was originally published on HR Daily Advisor.

Times are tough for businesses. Rapid shifts in operations have left little time to plan or organize change management, and many leaders are now scrambling to keep teams engaged, motivated, and proactively tackling what needs to get done. This is no small feat in normal times, as only 34% of employees consider themselves engaged in the workplace. The current climate, however, has made that much harder, with team members feeling isolated, anxious, and uncertain about the future.

Suddenly, safety is top of mind. Entire departments are now working remotely, and the concept of “essential” workers has (rightfully) expanded beyond medical professionals and first responders to include grocery store workers, custodians, and anyone clocking in hours at a food processing plant. Recent circumstances have brought forward an onslaught of new employment considerations that might very well become pattern and practice for years to come.

Today’s question, then, is this: What can employers do to keep morale up and all eyes focused toward the future? More to the point, how do employers keep people engaged and motivated without overextending their budgets?

Navigating Tomorrow Today

Though we don’t immediately see it, a lack of impromptu cross-functional networking and collaboration is causing lost momentum and innovation that will impact employers for years to come. But fret not: There are still things you can do right now to help employees feel supported, recognized, and valued. The following are great places to start:

1. Double outreach efforts. Engagement doesn’t happen by chance—it requires commitment and consistency on your part. Take every opportunity to publicly and privately recognize staff contributions. Send e-mails and texts of encouragement regularly. Pick up the phone, and give employees calls to celebrate accomplishments. Thank-you cards can do wonders for morale.

Beyond that, make a point of reaching out on birthdays and holidays. Send a heartfelt note to frontline workers this upcoming Customer Service Appreciation Week (October 5–9). Do something special for your leaders and managers on National Boss’s Day (October 16). Share your gratitude for staffers’ hard work and dedication on Thanksgiving, the holiday for thankfulness.

All that’s to say, look for new, different, and meaningful ways to show your appreciation. Your outreach efforts won’t go unnoticed.

2. Add a personal layer to virtual meetings. Work-from-home orders have kept employees from those regular watercooler moments, so set aside time during meetings for nonwork stories. Just expect to get the ball rolling yourself by offering up a personal anecdote or two. As staff members loosen up, they’ll chime in with their own tales.

As far as Zoom happy hours go, don’t force a focus on teambuilding. It can feel awkward and forced. Instead, infuse a little fun into the event; maybe hold a bingo game or conduct a survey wherein people make predictions, like who’s most likely to adopt a pet, install a pool, cut their own hair, and so on. Get creative, but have a plan to cultivate conversation.

3. Mentor with intent. Mentorship has a way of improving employee satisfaction, engagement, and retention while encouraging greater collaboration and trust. Part of this is due to mentorship itself, as staff have an opportunity to engage in deeper conversations about career development. But there’s also something to be said of having a sounding board of sorts that helps establish personal connections in the workplace.

If you don’t have a formal mentorship program, consider starting one. Until then, make yourself available. Ask about how things are going at work, but also be sure to discuss life outside the office. Practice empathetic listening, and encourage flexibility to manage daily stressors, especially for those in caregiver roles. In this current climate, employees need to feel your compassion.

4. Bolster mental health efforts. The World Health Organization reports that depression and anxiety cost companies $1 trillion a year in lost productivity. And with more than 60% of workers reporting mental health as a reason for lowered job performance, chances are someone in your company needs support. Remind employees of the resources available through your company or its insurance program.

5. Advocate for paid-time-off (PTO) use. Many people lean into work as a way of avoiding hardships, but that can end in disaster if too many issues surface at once. Encourage employees to use PTO, and go one step further by becoming an accountability partner and recommending time off whenever necessary. In fact, 45% of employees say their workload during the current climate has left them feeling burned out. People could use a little self-care.

6. Motivate with your mission. It’s easy to fall into a leadership message that focuses on financials and recent business changes or challenges. However, the best thing you can do is translate your mission into today’s context. Make sure staffers know that their contributions don’t go unnoticed in achieving that mission. Recognize that loudly, and say it often.

Your people will always be your greatest asset. Even during “normal” times, you should be investing in their professional and personal lives. Be intentional with employee appreciation, check in, keep employees in the loop, and make sure they have everything they need to get the job done. It’s really the least you can do going forward.

Rhonda Basler
With more than two decades of marketing and operations experience, Rhonda Basler is currently the Head of Operations & Agent Experience for Compass in St. Louis, Kansas City, and Nashville. Throughout her career, Rhonda has held the customer in the highest esteem and intimately understands the relationship between employee satisfaction and customer experience. Rhonda's career has spanned both B2B and B2C companies including Dot Foods, H & R Block, Hallmark, and Compass Realty Group.


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