Employee engagement on the other side of COVID-19

More than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered most organizations, forcing people into a period of extended work from home and others into unemployment, all Marylanders 16 and older are eligible for vaccination against the virus. With more people in Maryland being vaccinated, more organizations are reopening their offices and recalling employees into the office. However, according to a recent survey of 1,000 adults conducted in February by the workplace technology company Envoy, 66 percent of employees said they were worried about their health in returning to the workplace.

During this phase of “returning to normal,” practically everything is as abnormal as it gets. Now, more than ever, traditional understandings and assumptions of employee needs will not suffice—long term organizational success may rest upon an accurate understanding of “the new normal.” There has never been a more critical time for organizations to survey their employees. Let’s consider what these surveys should examine.

First, they should absolutely examine someone’s current physical and psychological state. COVID-19 has taken a toll on most everyone, so gauging where your workforce stands here is critical. It is also important to note that psychological well being is linked with economic security. Employees who are part of a family where one or more household members faced unpaid leave have likely faced some very difficult financial situations. It is essential for organizations to be understanding of and empathetic toward such struggles.

Additionally, contemporary surveys should examine challenges and limitations, as well as the support necessary for returning to work. These are questions that could be considered.

  • What challenges are employees currently facing?
  • Would support services—such as access to counseling services, taking employee and customer temperatures at the place of business, or adopting a more aggressive deep cleaning schedule—help ease apprehension during the transition?
  • What essential services might prevent employees from being able to return to work? For example, how many of your employees are only capable of returning to work once they have secured childcare and/or public transportation?
  • The bottom line: Do your employees feel safe returning to the workplace?

Assessing accurate knowledge about illness prevention can also be of value in survey design. This could include examining health behaviors (e.g., the frequency of cleaning a surface), or examining health knowledge, like how COVID-19 is (and is not) transmitted. Addressing gaps in knowledge can improve the collective health of everyone. For example, if only 80 percent of employees know about proper hand washing technique, then a training intervention presents an opportunity to decrease the transmission of disease across the entire workplace.

Finally, these surveys should also try to document what has been learned during the past year to contribute towards organizational knowledge, including:

  • During the pandemic, how well prepared was the organization?
  • What challenges and shortcomings did employees experience?
  • What unique leadership challenges arose?
  • What could improve productivity during a future period of prolonged quarantine?
  • How well did your current leave policy serve your workforce?

Don’t forget that new infections or other events could result in economic and workforce disruptions. Data that you collect today can be used to prepare your organization to best navigate the challenges you might face tomorrow.

Ultimately, understanding the current state of your employees isn’t just data—it’s information you can apply during the process of reopening. It’s power you can utilize to mitigate the chance of the workplace transmission of disease. It’s knowledge you can utilize to support your employees during an unprecedented time, potentially increasing their engagement and their productivity. It’s the understanding needed for us to successfully work together during a period of immense transition.