From Zoom happy hours to gift baskets, countless resources are dedicated to virtual employee engagement and productivity. But what about the essential employees who come to the workplace every day?
Whether on factory floors, in stores, healthcare facilities, or warehouses, these resilient employees work long hours to ensure our lives continue with minimal disruption. While they may not suffer from “Zoom fatigue” like remote employees, pandemic burnout is still very real for them. Many are also navigating family and childcare disruptions, such as remote schooling or closed daycares, while working long hours in person. These are very real challenges that require creative solutions.
Employee engagement is more than a catered lunch hour or gift card. While these are thoughtful gestures, the most impactful engagement initiatives will address urgent employee needs and demonstrate a long-term commitment to an employee’s future. This comprehensive approach can help alleviate some of the pressures employees are experiencing right now while boosting productivity and company loyalty.
Keeping Essential Employees Engaged: Addressing Immediate Needs and Future Career Growth
Recently, our team placed a new CHRO at Mansfield Energy Corp. Under our placement’s leadership, the company launched “Partnering with Parents,” a program that helps employees better balance work and family priorities while schools are closed. This program includes support for professionals, such as offering adaptable schedules for healthier work-life balance, and support for families, including free laptop rentals for online school, supplemental WIFI for streaming needs, and tech assistance for students through the company’s IT department. Mansfield’s approach exemplifies what it means to step up for essential workers and tie engagement initiatives back to urgent needs.
I know not every organization has the ability to create a program like “Partnering with Parents, but I think it is safe to say we are all looking for opportunities to add a little more. Whether you’re looking for a quick win or trying to establish a long-term enterprise initiative, these are additional options for your company to consider:
Quick wins: small changes with an immediate employee impact.
Meet employee needs on-site. Between working long hours and caring for family and children, many employees have put personal needs on the backburner. Help simplify their lives by bringing providers directly to the workplace, such as mobile clinics, dental checkups, mammograms, and even providers for workwear essentials like steel toe footwear.
Remind employees everyone is on the same team. As pandemic fatigue continues, frustrations intensify and it’s natural for employees to feel isolated in their struggles. Peer recognition boosts camaraderie and reminds employees everyone is in this together. A simple step is to start the day with a team huddle where every employee shares something positive from the previous day. This sharing typically involves showing appreciation to another team member for their support. A little recognition can go a long way.
Have coworkers recognize each other. You can formalize the above approach with a point-based system, where employees award points to one another in recognition of being a team player or going above and beyond. Employees can then redeem the points they’re awarded for prizes, such as an extra PTO day or a special lunch with the leadership team. Earlier in my career, when I was in the Army, we had a similar system that helped with cross-functional recognition, strengthening ties between different teams.
Provide thoughtful gifts. It’s easy to default to gift cards, and while those are certainly appreciated, they should be combined with other gestures that show your company is truly thinking about employee needs. This past year, some companies helped employees enjoy their holiday meals by providing complimentary turkeys at Thanksgiving and hams at Christmas. Another meaningful gesture is a tech-themed gift that can help employees and their families stay in touch and address remote schooling hurdles, such as tablets or inexpensive laptops, upgraded Wifi routers, and headphones.
Long-term initiatives: investments in employee career growth.
Help employees improve their skills. Employee development pays immediate dividends through knowledge and skill improvements while lowering turnover and keeping talent in-house. Some options, like in-person classes, may be paused due to the pandemic, but virtual approaches can still work. Offer employees a career development stipend to choose from approved virtual learning courses. These could include hard skill development, like computer programming, and soft skills, like leadership training and management. You can also help tailor e-book or podcast recommendations to help them progress toward their individual goals.
Offer career mapping. Career mapping services through HR are a low-cost, high-reward option that keeps employees engaged and motivated by providing a clear promotion pathway. When safe to do so, on-the-job shadowing lets employees “try out” other roles and better understand the skills and experience they’ll need to acquire to be successful in these positions.
Your employees have been through a lot this last year. With the promise of more vaccines and the hopes of getting things “back to normal”, remember that your employees have worked long hours and at times put their own well-being on the line to support business continuity and deliver essential services. Engagement initiatives not only help employees feel seen for these sacrifices but also improve morale, boost productivity and keep your very best talent engaged for the long run. That’s a win-win for your company and teams.