Employee Engagement in the age of COVID-19
Based on the many conversations that we are having with our candidates and client company contacts in these past weeks, patterns have arisen regarding which employees feel well taken care of versus whose who feel slighted during the COVID-19 crisis. It isn’t always as simple as whether an employee was retained or furloughed, but about message delivery, communication, and being treated with respect. Joyce and Rob have written this blog post to summarize what actions we believe will lead to employee loyalty once business re-opens versus those who have gotten it completely wrong.
Since this virus has impacted so many levels of our industry’s DTC business, companies have been faced with making difficult decisions regarding how to handle their teams’ employment during the COVID-19 retail shutdown. We are speaking with numerous candidates and client company contacts daily and can see clear patterns arising regarding actions that maximize employee engagement versus those who irreparably harm employee loyalty.
All employees are looking for clear, honest and timely messaging coupled with respect. Whether an employee is being retained or furloughed, employees are noting how their companies are handling this situation and will remember how they were treated when they have the opportunity to return to work. That treatment will directly manifest in the degree of employee loyalty once the doors re-open. We’ve summarized what is arising as “DO” and “DO NOT” employer behaviors based on direct employee feedback.
Of course, if you can, retain your team for maximum loyalty. Several of our clients are employing some or all of their teams, offering training on messaging to clients for check-ins and ways to purchase. Some retail managers are going into locations on a part time basis to help fill orders from retail stock and support E-Comm. Some are keeping their teams regularly engaged through calls and video-conferences. This is maximum employee engagement. Smart companies are providing training and involving their leaders in new initiatives for the future, strategies on future outreach to clients and team members.
Communication is key! Even in situations where management is retained and staff is furloughed, texts and emails are keeping employees updated on their status. Conference calls and Zoom meetings with engaged teams on a regular basis go a long way.
Companies who have done a good job explaining their situation to employees, keeping them updated with honest, if tough, messaging that demonstrates genuine concern have been received well. Even if an employee is placed in a furloughed situation, if they are treated with dignity and provided information explaining how the situation was unavoidable, there is a higher likelihood of loyalty once that employee’s position returns.
As employees are more settled into their current situation, conversations are turning to what the future will look like. For retail stores, what cleaning or social distancing rules are anticipated? What will schedules look like? The more they are included in these discussions the better. Continued updates on a timely basis are key- even if there is not a lot of new information. It’s hard to over-communicate in this situation.
Don’t send blanket emails sharing that there will be a pay cut, furloughs or layoffs, especially without the proper wording of care and concern. Bad news ideally should not be delivered via email to a full workforce- assemble your regional and divisional teams and develop a timeline and process to allow for sharing this information through coordinated calls or video conferences. We are hearing the most negative feedback from employees who were updated with significant negative info through blanket emails.
Do not hide, especially if you are a leader. Employees want to hear from their company’s namesake, president or CEO. Some of the most positive employee engagement we hear comes from those whose global executives schedule regular summit calls. This action costs nothing and pays a tremendous return in employee engagement and loyalty.
In summary, a simple way to think of this is “apply the golden rule”- treat others as you would be treated. Read and listen to your messaging through the eyes and ears of the recipient- how would you respond if it was you? If the answer is not “I would be proud to return to this organization” then it’s worth re-thinking the action and/or message. One of the many legacies of this COVID-19 situation will be the positive or negative impact on company culture resulting from how employees were treated. Given that people are a company’s most valuable asset, it pays to get this legacy right!
Rob Bowerman is President and Founder of The Bowerman Group- a leading executive search firm for luxury brands in the U.S. and Canada. Rob is also President of The Pinnacle Society, the premier consortium of industry-leading recruiters in North America.